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It seems like only yesterday that I first heard Wolf's explosive revival of pure 80s heavy/speed metal motif, anchored by Niklas Stålvind's high pitched, memorable vocal lines. The truth is they've been around for quite some time, well over a decade, and Ravenous is their 5th full-length. It is their most settled and mature sounding album to date, and a good one, but in places the lyrics felt a little too cheesy even for Wolf.
Many of the songs here seem focused on horror and legend: vampires, witches, psychopaths, etc. "Speed On" rocks forth with some well composed melodic guitar lines, and a fairly obvious chorus, but catchy nonetheless. "Curse You Salem" relates the tale of a witch hunt, and it's one of the better tracks on the album with some great riffs. "Voodoo" is very, very old school heavy metal style, though Stålvind's vocals take it over the top. Here is where you'll start to notice some of the really bad lyrics bleed in: when you put your hex, to get rid of your ex. Really? "Hail Caesar" is a cool track that reminds me of early Hexx with its rhythm. "Ravenous" is another riff monster, and Stålvind does a nice Dickinson-style vocal line in the verse. "Mr. Twisted" has riffs aplenty but the vocals and especially the lyrics suck:
'I'm leaving, I guess I'm leaving, you'll never see me again.
I'm leaving, oh yes I'm leaving, you'll never hear from me again.'
"Love at First Bite" is a vampire sex song which is just fucking hilarious lyrically in the way so many of those 80s songs were:
'My tongue is licking, is licking your wicked body
Your writhing and moaning, but you don't want to stop me.'
I rather enjoyed "Secrets We Keep" despite another almost painful lyrical streak. As for "Whiskey Psycho Hellions", what do you really expect? Fortunately the music again almost makes up for the embarrassing words. The final two tracks "Hiding in Shadows" and "Blood Angel" are both really good and the lyrics aren't quite as bad. The latter has some really nice acoustic guitars in it.
It's not that I expect Wolf to produce the work of a poet laureate, I actually expect a little cheese from any power metal album, but there are a few places where the lyrics just stick out like a sore thumb. Otherwise, Ravenous is a great album. The songs are well-written musically and Niklas' voice is gorgeous and in top form. As a whole, the album isn't as catchy as Evil Star or The Black Flame, but it will should still see some reasonable time in my car stereo.
The new Wolf album, I hate to say, is a slight step backwards for the band. The songs are still catchy, the riffs are still good, yet… it’s no Black Flame. The production is still as good, if not better, but the songs are less memorable in spite of this.
The strong point of the album is definitely the lead guitars. Every song has at least one solo, and the lead work in these sections is as stellar as ever for Wolf. The non-solo leads are incredible as well, especially on “Curse you Salem” at the beginning of the track. Other songs with great solos would be “Mr. Twisted”, “Whisky Psycho Hellions”, and “Hiding in Shadows”.
There is a slight decline in the quality of the riffs, not to say that the riffs on this album are not awesome, just not up to par with the previous album. They tend to be a bit slower and more deliberate. “Speed On” has a very driving power riff that does a great job starting things off, and they keep them coming with great consistency. I could swear that I’ve heard the main riff for “Hail Caesar” somewhere else, but regardless it works for that song, and they really kick it into something pretty heavy at the end of the track, probably the most headbang-worthy section on the album. I also found the riffs for “Love at First Bite” and “Blood Angel” to be very heavy and enjoyable.
Vocally, Niklas still has it going on. I could not detect a change in his style on this release, other than the fact that he hits the really high notes less often than I’m used to. This makes his high-end vocals a little more appreciable because they are used more sparsely, and I still firmly believe that he is one of the better singers out there. Lyrically this album is very diverse, but generally deals with cool themes like dark magic and beasts coming out of the shadows to get you!
The choruses are where the most noticeable drop-off occurs. Whereas on Black Flame they were memorable and stuck in your head regardless of whether you liked them, the chorus sections on Ravenous generally are very mediocre and forgettable. On “Whisky Psycho Hellions”, the chorus is so tedious that I was tempted to turn my stereo off and go read a book or something. The chorus section on “Mr. Twisted” is the exception for me, I really enjoyed that one. Overall though, less catchy and enjoyable choruses. I really cringe when a band sings about “It’s my life/ I do what I want!/ It’s my life/ I do what I feel!”, like on the last track, angst has no place in a Wolf song.
The wild card on this album is the third track, Voodoo. This song is an anomaly, a bluesy-feeling song that only a band as comfortable in their metalhood as Wolf could make with any real confidence. This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had listening to a Wolf track, and it’s all about reasons the average person might need to utilize this black art. Seriously, after the first time you hear this song you will not be able to resist singing along with it. It’s got this subdued and simple riff, Niklas really doesn’t cut loose for most of the song, and the solo is kind of slow. But it fucking rules! This track alone added 10% to my review score, it’s that good. Even if you found the rest of the album to be disappointing, “Voodoo” will make this album a worthwhile investment.
So, in short, Wolf fucking keep it real, and they keep it real metal. Just because their previous album was better should not deter you from picking this one up as well, you won’t regret it.