without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
There are some things that defy rational explanation. Luckily (or unluckily, in the context of this review) Wolf are one of those things. I am going to try to remain calm and explain why 'Black Wings' has been kicking my arse black and blue since I first heard it, but it might be difficult. If I begin to gibber and rave uncontrollably during the course of this review, it shall not be edited out, but taken as evidence for the physical effects that Wolf has on me. I strongly, strongly advise you not to listen to this album while exercising or at any time after 6p.m., since you will surely have either a heart attack or a sleepless night. It's fast, it's savage, and it's amazing fun.
Now, this album will surely have its sceptics. In fact, I'm actually sceptical about the quality of the music on offer here and, when I'm contemplating 'Black Wings' in the peace of a still midnight, I can see that there isn't much original going on here, generally picking the best (read: fastest) parts from Iron Maiden, Running Wild, Mercyful Fate, and some of the other classic and speed metal bands of the 80s, running their hormones through a laboratory circuit made only of amplifiers, then setting a wild cat loose to contribute the vocals. What that means is that those looking for certifiable musical quality or inventiveness are going to be left shrugging their shoulders, while those whose adrenaline and serotonin secretors are a bit blocked might also feel that there's nothing of note happening. However, what most normal people (OK, so actually just the normal people who like heavy metal) are going to do upon hearing 'Black Wings' is sit in silence for the first 30 seconds of 'Night Stalker', start tapping their foot like they're trying to break the floorboards, then rip out their headphones, max out the volume, and start screaming incoherently at the same pitch as Niklas Stalvind while ripping apart all of the soft furnishings in the room. This album gets you wired, and we're not talking about having a coffee or two.
So why is it so great? My friend, if you're asking that question, what you really mean is, "What's great about heavy metal?" and if you don't know the answer you are sure as shit looking at the wrong website. Riffs. Leads. Pounding rhythms. Ridiculous vocals. Excitement. More or less the 5 reasons we aren't listening to Katy Perry today. Wolf has all of those characteristics in abundance and are utterly unashamed of abusing the limits that they can be taken to. 'Black Wings' is a speed metal album in character, so the riffs must be not only fast but also catchy and aggressive, which Stalvind (alright, so he was still Niklas Olsson in those days) and a guy called Johan "Blade" Bülow provide almost to overdose. I've had a problem with some of the classic speed metal bands like Grave Digger and Agent Steel, since many of their riffs sound homogeneous and are sometimes merely there for speed, not for musical content. Wolf have none of that problem, opting for a thicker though still streamlined guitar tone that accentuates the power of the riffs in comparison to the lighter melodies, while the actual riff patterns draw as much from NWOBHM's greater creative freedom as the European speedsters. Those on the lookout for outstanding heaviness would do well to head straight to 'Genocide', while I find myself totally helpless against the incredible main theme of 'Demon Bell'. The melodies go both ways as well, sometimes closely resembling Iron Maiden's earliest efforts in their isolated position in the songs, sometimes merely serving as a demonic accelerator to the surrounding carnage. In some cases, such as the lengthy lead section of 'I Am the Devil', the melodies go get overdone and could have been edited to maintain the cutthroat effect of the rest of the song.
As if the guitars weren't enough to convince you, the other parts of the band are in fine working order too. Again, the rhythm duo of Mikael Goding and Daniel Bergkvist aren't the most creative, but they both benefit from simply massive-sounding instruments, Goding's bass grunting and snarling audibly like a beast and Bergkvist missing no beat and even adding some extra ones in the form of heroic fills. For the clearest example of their calibre, the build-up to the last chorus in 'Unholy Night' is totally unexpected and shows an understanding of subtlety in the midst of lightning pace. (Subtlety is totally the wrong word to use about this album, but everything in context I suppose.) Then, there's the wild cat on vocals, who had a bit of rough time on the band's debut album, though here he is completely in his element. I don't know what the fuck happened to Stalvind during the recording of 'Black Wings', but I'm going to have a guess that it's a toss up between Peter Tägtgren (yes, the Peter Tägtgren produced this album) shoving a stick of dynamite between his butt cheeks during the astoundingly passionate and desperate 'Genocide' and 'I Am the Devil' or him simply having total belief in the songs he had written and his ability to carry out what was required of him. The cover of Mercyful Fate's 'A Dangerous Meeting' could be thought of as a token filler or tribute stuck at the end of the album, but even there Stalvind gives King Diamond a run for his money, screaming out the classic lyrics in a more visceral, less cheesy take on the original.
I could run through any of the songs blow-by-blow to show the intelligent structuring that has been used here, but it would only serve to dilute the spontaneous appeal of the faster songs and the atmospheric blanket cast around the steadier numbers like 'Unholy Night', 'A World Bewitched', and 'Venom', which is a prime example of how to choose one riff for a song and make that riff grow and grow in potency. None of the songs really lack appeal and I would put the opening 3 plus 'Unholy Night' and 'Genocide' up there with the classics, though 'The Curse' is probably the weakest, containing less in the way of hooks and pure energy. However, in a bizarre way, despite the generally consistent quality, the 9 songs play better back to back, where they gain intensity from song to song and make a stronger physical and emotional claim on the listener. I can't quite say this is Wolf's finest hour, but this is the album that gets me the sweatiest and makes me want to do everything in the world right now. Really fucking good.
The extraordinary thing about Wolf’s second album isn’t that the best song is a Mercyful Fate song. Mercyful Fate actually succeeded in doing that on seven full-lengths, two EP:s, two singles – well every release they’ve done. No, the extraordinary thing is the vast amounts of appraisals they get while they don’t really deserve it. Sure, they can play. Sure, they play old-school heavy metal. Sure, they love the genre. The sad thing is that if you’ve heard one song – well then you’ve heard 40 minutes of the album – that is the entire album but the Mercyful Fate cover.
Tremolo picking, tremolo picking – they know how to that at least. Drums are sped up but monotonous. Guitars distorted to the level when they’ve not yet become dark but haven’t dropped the shiny part either. And what do I hear – isn’t that the good old heavy metal song concept? Tremolo, an occasional tap on another string, repeat two times, change key, riff, chord – and then a vocalist comes into the picture who isn’t your usual high-pitched man but an annoying nasal one. When he tries singing high the words get hard to distinguish from each other and the voice drowns in the music.
And it’s the same every song. Sure, they play fast, heavy old-school traditional metal. Sure, they’re one of the few bands doing so today. They’re probably the best band in the genre as we speak, but listening to the old-school material, which was actually released during the golden era, kicks this album’s ass, applies the whip harshly and remorselessly. Not that the songs aren’t high quality – they just sound the same. Listening to a random song at a random time, or in a V.A. compilation, surely works. Listening to the songs one and one sees the genius behind it all. But my attention span is way to short to listen to the same song over and over again, with new lyrics if I’m lucky. They don’t revolve about too many subjects.
Venom is an interesting song, being such a carried through one, tremolo, tremolo, tremolo… The rhythm is simplistic, yet addictive. It has great lyrics too, but the generally annoying vocals yet utterly and extremely poor this time. The rhythm and melody is, with few changes, kept in the next song which has the typical tremolo too, somewhat enfeebled though. And the chorus bear for a few seconds a resemblance with Blind Guardian! I tell you no shit, a lot of the bands we all love have been influential here (Maiden, Judas Priest, some more NWOBHM), yet Wolf wouldn’t like to be a complete rip-off, so they’ve done their changes, added a new sound façade. It’s just a shame that the copier manages to be on a level so far below that of the originals.
Do you like your drinks (and your metal) straight up? Hearing this band is a MUST for fans of traditional metal. Based on a couple of listens to the newest Iron Maiden album – A Dance with Death, this Wolf album rips, tears, shreds and devours the album from the beloved Brits and there is still space for seconds. I am not going to do a track by track analysis (although this album would easily lend itself to this kind of review) and instead I will discuss my sore ass. Starting with the first track Night Stalker (Skelator should sue!) the notes (already in boot form) commenced kicking my ass and didn’t stop until after the last track – A Dangerous Meeting (yep, it’s a Mercyful Fate cover). The album contains plenty of catchy melodies and familiar NWOBM riffage with a modern touch. The sound quality is crisp and everything sounds clear without any instrument being too pronounced. The singer Niklas Olsson’s voice has its own recognizable characteristic and is ideal for the band’s sound. Shit, I don’t even know if I wan’t to listen to Kind Diamond sing A Dangerous Meeting again. This man is on key!
To roll all of the words above into a neat little headline: Modern Swedish band gives traditional metal a shot of “welcome to the new millennium-adyl”.
Try playing that Wolf CD in the middle of a Maiden, Accept, Saxon, Mercyful Fate marathon. That is if you’re into that kind of thing, oldtimer.