If you’ve been paying attention to the UK black metal underground over the past few years, you’d have been hard pressed to miss the rise of Wode. The Manchester-based band have gone from strength to strength with each record, culminating in their third album Burn In Many Mirrors (review here). Their first for 20 Buck Spin, it sees the band continue to grow their sound, mixing melodic elements with the ferocity you’d hope for from black metal, all topped off with an understanding of (and appreciation for) classic metal – both in the sense of knowing when to be a bit more adventurous, and when to simply let the riffs take the lead and rock. It’s the kind of album that is firmly rooted in the underground yet still has an accessible edge, making it feel like it could be the one that really sees Wode gain the audience their hard-work and talent would warrant.
On the cusp of potentially great things, we caught up with guitarist/vocalist M.C. via email to ask about the writing process, how your sound changing doesn’t mean your spirit has to, and why the ‘90s were a more varied time for black metal than most would recognise.
Tell us a bit about the new album – what was the writing/recording like, and what themes are being explored on the record?
The writing process took about two years and was probably the most straightforward experience we’ve had when writing an album, with the songs coming together very organically between the four of us. We’d toured more than ever before in the period following the last album and many of the new songs went straight into our live set, which helped get them to the level required for the studio. Recording began in March 2020 at Nø Studio in Salford but was interrupted after a week by UK lockdown restrictions. Thankfully we were able to resume recording later in the Summer once restrictions had eased. The intervening period gave us time to focus on our individual parts and write some new ones too, so the delay didn’t really have a negative impact on the album other than pushing its release back by a few months.
There are quite a few themes being explored on the record but one of the main ones is this idea of journeying into the underworld and the physical and spiritual transformations that occur there. There’s a narrative that threads through all of the songs – lyrics are included in the record and are available online for those who want to delve any deeper.
Each of your albums so far has had its own identity, yet also kept a consistency of spirit about them. Is that something intentional when writing?
I think the key is probably not to overthink things once writing begins. We’re quite restless people and we always want to push the music forward and to not go over old territory too much, but we don’t really have a clear idea in mind of how a record will sound until the writing is well underway. The writing for this one was particularly intuitive with many parts coming together spontaneously through jamming and then honed and arranged into their final structures. This way of working moves the sound into different territory as it removes any reliance on ‘old tricks’ so to speak, and it tends to lead to many unexpected twists and turns, which helps to keep things interesting for us. As for the consistency of spirit, the core lineup has been the same for ten years now and although the music has changed quite a lot in that time our motivations for doing it have always been the same.
Themes of the apocalypse and hellish, Satanic imagery have been present in each Wode record so far. Is that something you think is key to black metal?
These are a few of the themes we’ve explored – though there are plenty of others besides those – and they’re often used allegorically to relate to things we see in the world around us. The themes are shaped by the mood of the music and as the music continues to change the themes probably will do too. Regarding Satanic imagery in the lyrics, I think there’s always been a level of ambiguity there, sometimes the thing that is alluded to or left unsaid can be more powerful than that which is said outright.
I don’t think these types of themes should be key to black metal necessarily, and I think it would be pretty boring if every band stuck to the same ideas. Bands should explore whatever themes they want to as long as they work in context with the music – we’re talking about black metal after all so I think there needs to be some form of darkness within the lyrics, but there are obviously many different ways to achieve that.
Whilst Burn In Many Mirrors sounds like it has a lot of influence from classic metal, black or otherwise, there’s also something forward-thinking about the album, such as in the way ‘Streams Of Rapture’ is constructed. Do you think there’s a general aversion to such risk-taking in black metal, with too many bands afraid to break from templates established in the ‘90s?
What’s interesting to me is that ‘90s black metal had such a great diversity and spirit of adventure with many idiosyncratic bands trying different things; a lot of the Norwegian bands didn’t sound like each other and bands from Greece, Finland, Eastern Europe and elsewhere sounded even less alike. There’s no shortage of influence to draw from but the perception of ‘90s black metal nowadays has become so narrow (constant blasting, shrieked vocals, tremolo picking etc) with many current bands happy to stick to that formula without offering any new ideas or injecting any of their own personality into it. I think a lot of bands see this as the way things are ’supposed’ to be done with any deviation from the formula making it somehow less authentic – despite the fact that many of the ‘90s bands who played this style would continue to change and develop. This idea of ‘sticking to the formula’ applies to a lot of the bands playing so called atmospheric or post-black metal too, so the issue may just be a lack of imagination.
Personally, I think the best current black metal bands are those that draw from older sounds (though not necessarily the obvious ones) and bring in other appropriate influences, but do so with a clear identity and voice. Bands like Negative Plane, Funereal Presence, Malokarpatan and Cultes des Ghoules are good examples.
You’re all involved in other bands, with quite a crossover of membership between Wode and other bands like Aggressive Perfector and Heavy Sentence. When writing, how do you decide if a song or riff will fit with Wode or another band? Have you ever set out to write a Wode song, but realised part-way through it would suit another band better?
Both Wode and Aggressive Perfector (and the same probably goes for Heavy Sentence, although I’m not a member) have very different ways of writing, different people taking the lead and playing different instruments, and very different vocal styles/lyrical themes despite the similar memberships, so I’m not sure if this has ever happened. Both bands play in different subgenres of course, and though they do occasionally stray into similar territory the distinct contexts and mindsets ensure that the material always ends up sounding like whichever band it is being written for. I guess I’m saying that the personality of each band is greater than the sum of its parts, or something like that. We’re definitely conscious of not wanting to blur the lines between each band too much, but given the way things are set up I’m not sure if this could ever happen really.
You’ve recently been added to the line-up for Damnation Festival. Other than this, what plans do you have for the band once you’re able to tour again?
Obviously it’s a difficult situation to predict but we have album release gigs booked for Manchester and London, with more dates in the pipeline for later in the year and early 2022. We’ve toured Europe in support of the two previous albums so would want to do that again for this one, though I think it may be quite a while before that becomes a possibility. Aside from that, we’ve begun our weekly rehearsals again and ideas for the next record are beginning to take shape.
Burn In Many Mirrors is out now on 20 Buck Spin. Order here.
Words: Stuart Wain