So, my first time out listening to Wolvhammer, though a cursory mooch about on the internet tells me that they’re well established in the US, boasting members or ex-members of acts such as Abigail Williams, Skeletonwitch, Nachtmystium and Krieg. This appears to be their fourth full length release, and the first in about four years, for the five-piece outfit hailing from Olympia, Washington.

Described as “blackened sludge metal”, as an occasional pedant, I’d say that this is very much more in the vein of sludgened-black metal, as opposed to the other way round. “The Monuments of Ash and Bone” has rather more in common with the black metal approach than the likes of say, Iron Monkey or Eyehategod, with the discordant guitars and shrieked vocals. In fact, it’s all a fairly cerebral affair, with tracks such as “Call me Death” bringing to mind the more mind-bending and psychedelic moments of Enslaved, compared with the atavistic stomp of early Celtic Frost, all drenched in a thick haze of sludgey, bass heavy guitar work. For sure, there are plenty of mid-tempo, head-down moments to be found on the album, (and it’s all the better for it), but there’s also a lot of invention and introspection to be found here too.

Take, for example, “Bathed in Moonblood & Wolflight”. Aside from having the kind of title that’d be lifted directly from a third tier Cacophonous Records act circa 1995, it has an infectious main riff that flirts with both being black metal and filthy-crust, before latching onto a simple but compelling propulsive gallop. Things morph around the two minute mark, with a dizzying yet simple bass motif being joined, after a brief moment of bottom-heavy assault, with the vertigo inducing concentric nature of the main riff. It’s a kind of sophistication which is created by the layering of simple concepts.

The crew get closest to out and out sludge metal on “Dead Rat, Rotting Raven”, which has the kind of groove-laden, feedback heavy guitar sound that you’d most notably associate with the style. It’s probably here that I find the band least interesting. Wolvhammer seem to be at their absolute best when they’re approaching black metal from the filthy, grime-drenched guitar approach, rather than being an out and out sludge outfit. Where they get it right in the song – such as towards the mid-section of the track, when they bust out the early Satyricon moment and just go full-on, it really works. The collision of styles provides a fresh take on what can be quite a claustrophobic genre.

It’s clear that the individual musicians are veterans of the game, not only in the playing of the instruments, but also in the song writing department. Special mention has to go to vocalist Adam Clemens, who has an absolute belter here, but also to bassist Andrew Gerrity. It’s rare that bassists get the plaudits they deserve – and doubly so for any who are involved in any way with Black Metal, but he’s really the rigid spine that runs the way through the album. He’s aided by a sharp and expansive production job, that somehow manages to navigate the way through the scything nature of the Black Metal nature and the requisite amount of murk and gloom required to add that sheen of filth and muck.

All in all, “Monuments” is a damn fine listen, and nothing like the identi-kit sludge metal you may expect from the genre description of the band. Good stuff.

 (8/10 Chris Davison)