I don’t believe in God, but I have complete faith in Wovenhand lead singer and songwriter David Eugene Edwards. Which is alarming, because Refractory Obdurate sounds a clamorous warning that something is nigh. Rather than a direct message, Edwards offers only a shatter of brimstone pieces; but take my word, we’re talking some cataclysmic shit. Those disciples who’ve followed Edwards through the decades — beginning with 16 Horsepower’s deep holler roar and evolving into Wovenhand’s eastward-facing digressions — may have sensed a stirring in the portent of “Truth” from 2010’s The Threshingfloor: “Will my time pass so slowly/ On the day that I fear?”
That fearful day is at hand. “Corsicana Clip” (a veritable crown of thorns named for an old form of cast-iron barbed wire) opens Refractory Obdurate with merciless toms, swirling Saharan guitars, and a wandering lyric that seeks cover in “the hollow of His hand.” The acoustic bridge, though, leads not to shelter, but an air-raid blitz of windswept annihilation, calling forth dark jags of fuzzbomb guitar and tracer-blasts of electrified chaos. In this hellfire torment, Edwards’ words are nearly impossible to make out — perhaps that’s the point, perhaps the entire point is to listen before it’s too Goddamn late — leaving only desperate scraps and fragments, clues that “high above” lies “the place for the believer.”
Those ritualistic drums soldier on, metal guitars rage, and Edwards testifies with rattle and humming righteousness in the same vein Bono exposed on “Bullet the Blue Sky”. And I can see those fighter planes emerging from the Desert Storm-drenched canvases of Beirut-born painter Nabil Kanso as “Salome” pirouettes across the firmament, the snaky hip-shake of that great seductress of the apocalypse turning heads, while goose-stepping “Masonic Youth” march in line. Even the promise of sanctuary proves an illusion, as the sustenance and restoration of the monastic refectory get punningly flipped into “a refractory bereft.” Nothing is sacred. “Good Shepard” raises the dead, summoning the Bunnymen, Bauhaus, even a whiff of The Cult, as our path to salvation must be puzzled from the pieces of a “cast-out mosaic,” with Edwards’ vocals time and again obdurately refracted through the broken box speakers of an AM radio preacher.
There’s no telling what to believe. I get so lost sometimes, but on certain listless days, 16 Horsepower’s “American Wheeze” has been the only sign I needed, a dancing bellows of history, and toil, and the power and fucking glory of true music making. So, whatever David Eugene Edwards has prophesied, whatever graceless end awaits, to that I say: Amen.
Essential Tracks: “Corsicana Clip”, “Masonic Youth”, and “Salome”