Ever hear of Wold? No? I too am hearing them for the first time. I will say that this is a disturbing record. I understand that being cooped up on the frozen wastes of Saskatchewan probably affects the sound that they produce a great deal.
Holy shit this is disturbing. Screech Owl opens with "An Habitation of Dragons and a Court for Owls," an oscillating noise driven track being charged with a black metal-esque vocal style that one might expect on a Wolf Eyes record. "Ray of Gold" sounds like there could be something going on underneath the feedback and white noise, but it is difficult to make out any details. The same is true of the next track, "So that No Sword May Strike Him Down."
By the time that "The Field Hag" hits my stereo, I am starting to feel like the band is taunting me. Surely, the sound on Screech Owl is purposely engineered for this sound since I have recorded demos on a boom box that have better recording quality than this. "The Field Hag" has a bit of a different vocal quality that kind of makes me think the vocalist is trying to affect some semblance of a witch-like archetype. I think it sounds childish. If Wold is trying to marry a doom/drone style with black metal and noise (a la Wolf Eyes), I think they miss the mark on some of the album. The vocals are a bit too high in the mix and really take away from most of what is going on underneath the white noise. It is very bleak sounding regardless.
That said, Screech Owl has its share of bright spots. Tracks like "Windmill" show where the band could make an impact. This is a pure noise track that has what seems like bass throbbing beneath the static. I actually find myself enjoying "December Eve" a great deal until the overbearing vocals join in the mix. The sound kind of reminds me of a howling winter storm - something this band from Saskatchewan would know about from their vast experience - which I find rather comforting. The vocals are more intermittent here though and I think that benefits the overall quality of the track. "Gather Under Her Shadow" is another track that Wold truly has something with its somber keyboards that peek out from behind the pounding noise. The stark sound present in "A Sword Becomes Red with Fury" is excellent; when the music sticks its head out from under the heavy white noise, its impact on the listener is magnified due to straining to hear it when it is buried.
I want to comment on the packaging. Yes, this is a CD, but it is packaged like a gatefold LP. The CD itself is in a sleeve that has the lyrics printed on it inside one leaf of the gatefold. I have to give kudos to Wold for their art design.
Overall, Wold give us a bleak, desperate, harsh sounding record with Screech Owl. I am unsure if I see where the band's true intentions lie, but there seems to be a concrete method to their madness. People who get way into this sound could easily be taken down with its despairing claustrophobia. I say this, because I think I barely recovered from it, and I can see them having a loyal, deranged set of devoted listeners. Minus the tracks that were really tough for me to make it through, I think I enjoy it; then again, I like punishing my eardrums. For normal people, this record will frighten you for sure.