David Edwards' music has imposed on a lot of my peers strongly. I've respected his work with Wovenhand in the past and found 16 Horsepower to be a bit ahead of their time (which I hope translates as the compliment I meant it to be). There's a lot of backstory to his musical path but for all the filler that backstory makes, one thing's apparent - Refractory Obdurate is an anthology of years of musical experience and a fearless venture that mashes up many genres and sounds. The result? A cathartic, non-linear record that sees Wovenhand harness their inner Tarantino.
Refractory Obdurate feels like a concept record packed with biblical themes but then you digest, relate and understand its metaphors on life. Some songs are disorienting, a bit too personal but as the music embeds, you realize that it's okay to let your guard down, even when the soul-piercing gets too much. The barrage of folk, alternative, country, post-rock, hardcore and metal overlap to craft a heavily artistic record. They weave into each other in subtle doses and Wovenhand get the blend right, most of the times. "Corsicana Clip" is a great example here. Its mid-tempo drive barrels into a loud, aggressive finale. A few tracks in and it's obvious that this sort of surge is common on the album. This track though differentiates itself nicely with a fractured and enigmatic feel a la Robert Smith. It sets the introspective tone of the album as its opener and transposes the listener to a realm of suspended disbelief - which Edwards definitely wanted to do from the onset.
"Good Sheperd" is one of the more furious tracks with blistering drums courtesy of Ordy Garrison. His frantic hands keep switching the record's mood from sadness, sorrow and a solemn drifting lull to a more upbeat, uplifting burst. The inconsistency is beyond exciting. Their musical arrangement is Edward's ideal vehicle for the soulful expression and constant spiritual self exploration he wants to translate. One con though is that the record has a long run-time which works against it at points because too many long tracks allow a tad extensive space to give a very stretched out and boring feel. It feels like such a risk averse decision to extend tracks as long as they did. However, when the record snaps back into place, it poses more than enough slapshots to ignore -- awash with distorted, grating power. "Hiss" serves as testament to this as a devouring track to march into the fields of war. Pounding rhythms and cutting guitars helm this commanding presence to amplify Edwards' vocals, which seem to arrest a sense of anti-establishment. Again, think Tarantino meets black metal with some heavy punk attitude sprinkled in.
Chuck French and Neil Keener (Planes Mistaken For Stars, Git Some) round out the musical ensemble and they're spot on in accompanying the mission. The Spanish, Middle Eastern and so many other influences are felt in droves, especially acoustically, and it's a pleasure how well adjusted they are to the melody of Refractory Obdurate. This move shows how intelligently layered these sounds are onto the more grimy tones. There's a lot to take in but it's worth it. Not because of some overly expressive narrative. But because of how crazy the approach is to mash these many sounds in as one fluent piece of rock. It's quite hazy, quite crowded but it works. It really does. And this...coming from someone who wasn't that big a fan to begin with.