Released on September 9, 2016 via Glitterhouse
Star Treatment is Wovenhand‘s eight album, the follow up to 2014’s well received Refractory Obdurate, this one also recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago and again helmed by engineer Sanford Parker,
If you have any previous interest in main man David Eugene Edwards work you will not be surprised to hear this album’s title doesn’t refer to the fame monster of celebrity, but is to do with with man’s fascination with the stars in the night sky. Edwards admits that it’s ‘ethereal in concept‘ and he’s not kidding. All of Edwards work, through his four 16 Horsepower onwards have all been underpinned and coloured by his deeply held Christian beliefs and on paper could be very forbidding to the novice listener. I am a long time fan of his music but freely admit I have never had a clue what he’s singing about, his songs are littered with the sort of obscure biblical references that make Johnny Cash seem like Nikki Sixx! It really shouldn’t get in the way of you enjoying the music as Edwards bands always create a thrilling intensity that even the greatest metal bands would struggle to match.
‘Run Brave’ is fabulous opener – an insistent tattoo of drums and slashing and flashing guitars, like a cross between Billy Duffy and Neil Young, Edwards exhorting ‘Run brave, run brave run‘ as the subject is ‘Up and gone, Like a leaping Buck‘. It sounds at first like a wild west adventure story but then the language changes and it seems to be about building a congregation ‘enlarge the place of thy tent‘. The lyrics throughout are fragmented and hallucinatory. The whole album is like a giant free association, pulling on the touchstones of all his work and indeed his own life history and that of his ancestors – the Native American blood, the preacher grandfather, everything is summoned.
Whilst magnificently singular lyrically ‘Come Brave’ is still a fairly straight-forward rocker and would be a gentle and perhaps misleading introduction into Wovenhand’s music. There are occasions where the band create atmosphere’s rather than standard songs and the second track on the album, ‘Swaying Reed’, is as challenging as it gets. Like an Old Testament sermon being given during a battle between a free jazz drummer and a doom metal band it is unsettling and alien. You wont be able to replicate the sound in your head afterwards and that is perhaps a problem with other tunes here, they are not so much memorable as powerfully captivating in the moment.
‘The Hired Hand’ returns us to easier fare. It’s a spaghetti Western goth-groover with a clear influence of The Gun Club and a surprisingly sexy swagger on the verses, before the chorus ‘he commands the grave and sea/O give up your dead‘ puts us back in our places.
‘Crystal Palace’ is another giant, Western-style epic atop a sly Native American melody and massed male vocals chants – lamenting into the wind. It’s the kind of tune you want to hear whilst stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon in tattered riding gear, lifting your arms to the sky and hollering into the sunset.
Americana is only a small part of the sound of Wovenhand and Edwards has long been an admirer of African and Middle eastern music and so ‘Crook and Flail’ is a surging Tinariwen-esque desert blues, the band bringing all their skills to bear on the the giddy dancing guitar lines, effortlessly forging something equally authentic and strange.
There is a lot of goth rock and psyche running through this album, but it is still a small shock that ‘The Quiver’ – sounds startlingly like early Verve, from when Richard Ashcroft was a novice shambolic Shaman and the band were acid-fried adventurers. It’s slow, soulful beginning giving way to thunderous crashing psych tumult.
The best of the slower, less rambunctious or odd numbers is ‘Golden Blossom’ – a baroque ballad which although it has a stronger, more memorable melody than most, teeters on the edge of becoming overwrought, always a danger when Edwards’ vocal delivery is so impassioned and he’s not fighting to be heard amongst the maelstrom. In truth the album tails off a tad at about the two-thirds point, the songs all fairly mid-paced, the urgency and intensity dissipating, the haunting ‘Go Ye Light’ being the last real burning flame against the darkness, it’s massed choir-like vocals giving a gospel edge to the mourning.
As much a calling as a career, I doubt David Eugene Edwards will ever stop making rich and beguiling music, but Star Treatment is a fine a time as any to begin exploring it. Recommended.