The claustrophobic sonic realm created by Canadian outfit Wold on Freermasonry -initially released in 2011 on Profound Lore and reissued this year on Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ imprint – is one where black metal, noise and industrial music all collide, in the process sucking out space and time like the air leaving an expiring corpse. The ten tracks all feature massed ranks of guitar, bass and percussion that are so monolithic and dense as to render most details of what is what almost unrecognisable. Unperturbed, vocalist Fortress Crookedjaw sustain this onslaught for well over an hour, the kind of determination that will thrill noise and metal fans and baffle most others.
If I’m making Freermasonry sound like a slog, then I’m doing it a disservice, because, despite how massive and immovable it often seems, hints of a profound musicality seep up through the cracks of each track, usually propelled by the gruesome, wonderful, rasp-cum-hiccup vocals of Crookedjaw. The album kicks off its implacable grind with the playfully-titled two-minute ‘Opening’, and several shorter tracks are dropped around the eight-to-sixteen-minute opuses that form the album’s core, presumably to keep the album’s flow marginally approachable. ‘SOL’ sets the ball rolling properly in this respect, as fractured, disjointed riffs battle with a wall of distortion over minimal beats that sound like they’ve been produced by the world’s most knackered drum machine.
Crookedjaw’s vocals sound lost amid this maelstrom, not so much accompanying the half-formed melody as growling over it, the man sounding like the bastard son of Burzum and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Wold’s momentum on ‘SOL’ (and indeed the rest of the album) is fitful, with none of the driving momentum one associates with black metal, sounding in fact closer to power electronics noise-makers such as Ramleh, or a more compressed Whitehouse circa 1983. Indeed, on two of the longest tracks, the scalding ‘Working Tools For Praxis’ and the more supple title track, the combination of dense clouds of high-pitched drone, fitful drum machine rhythms and loping sub-bass combine at times to sound like a muddy live recording of late-70s Throbbing Gristle, with a consumptive Attila Csihar clone taking the place of Genesis P-Orridge’s manic barks. Elsewhere, such as on ‘Dragon Owl’, Wold come close to matching the unrelenting wall noise of a Vomir or The Cherrypoint.
If there is a drawback to such sonic mayhem, it’s that such airlessness renders Crookedjaw’s lyrics, supposedly based on lofty themes like freemasonry and religion, completely unintelligible. One review I read of the record quoted some of the lines, and they sound fascinating, but I can only surmise that the reviewer had access to a lyric sheet. Either that or he or she has the ears of a basset hound, the lucky blighter. It rarely matters when you can’t hear the words on a noise album, because the best acts (such as the aforementioned Ramleh, or their erstwhile label-mates Skullflower) can conjure up their songs’ sentiment in other ways. With Wold, it feels like a missed opportunity. There’s certainly a lot on Freermasonry that will get noise and industrial heads grinning and head-banging, even if some of the shorter tracks feel a bit like afterthoughts, but metal fans may find it all a bit wearisome.