Writhe – The Shrouded Grove (self-released, 22 September 2014)
“One-man black metal band” — or perhaps to be more accurate, “one-man black metal project.” What do you think of when you hear (read) those words? It sort of makes my skin crawl just to type them. In my line of work (expert music-opinion-haver), the phrase almost always means bad news: some kid who lives in his parents basement downloaded some pirated sound editing software onto his Macbook, cut-and-pasted the same generic drumbeat for twelve minutes, plugged his crappy guitar directly into the line-in input, screamed some stuff about the Impending Conquest of the Dark Lord Urkel Grue into the built-in laptop mic, and then ran the whole thing through some cheesy preset distortion plug-in. Then found some old black-and-white picture of some old buildings using Google image search, photoshopped some nonsense like “Desolation of Solitude” (using Parchment font) onto it, and then emailed it all to me. The message probably started out by saying “Infernal Hailz.” Never a good sign.
But today — surprise!! — I’m going to introduce you to something that goes against all of those stereotypes…
Writhe is an atmospheric black metal project performed and recorded solely by one person, Mr. John D. Reedy of a place called Leighton Buzzard, in England. Despite that fact, the album The Shrouded Grove — a pair of tracks about ten minutes apiece, which came into the world exactly eighteen months ago — is of higher quality, and just feels more organic, than many full-band efforts I’ve heard.
Title track “The Shrouded Grove” kicks things off in grand form, piling up so many layers of guitars that the overall effect nearly sounds like a saturated blob of noise — similar to the feeling you get from a band like Laster. About halfway through, though, everything breaks down — at least for a moment — to a far more subtle mix of one clean(ish) guitar and a touch of feedback, with ghostly ethereal singing dangling somewhere above.
This brief drop in dynamics foreshadows the contrasts to be found in the second (and last) track of the release, “The Slumbering Council.” Stepping outside the realm of black metal for a bit, this song starts with a melancholy, minimal arrangement that includes a mournful bit of hymnal singing — all of which strongly resembles Bell Witch, at least until the vast layers of tremolo-picked guitars build back up again over the majority of the running time!
In conclusion, this is overall an excellent twenty minutes of music that will draw you in and keep you enveloped the entire way. For an orchestration this dense and complex, but also this subtle and full of nuance, to be designed and executed by just a single band member is quite a task; it just may change the way you think about “one-man black metal.”
The album had been released on CD initially, but this has since sold out — however, you can still listen to it on Bandcamp, or download for whatever price you wish (including free!):
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