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I'm not exactly sure of all the terms and conditions that Wolf made in their pact with the devil, but it seems to me that, in exchange for providing them with the ability to write irresistably heavy, catchy songs, the red fella dropped in something about the band being obliged to write cheesy lyrics and forever remain unfashionable. Oh, and that they would be eternally cursed.
The curse of Wolf, sadly, is also their greatest triumph. When 'The Black Flame' dropped in 2006, heavy metal more or less reached its peak, from my point of view anyway. Every album since then (that was the first Wolf album I heard) has suffered in comparison, simply because whatever the band do, they cannot match those dizzy heights. Thankfully, there is no such thing as a bad Wolf album, and 'Ravenous' is fucking awesome in its own right. The Swedes could quite easily have stuck to the songwriting style of the previous album, but they decided to change things up a little, producing an album that is faster, more melodic, and that contains a few curveballs, more of which in a minute.
Wolf started life as Iron Maiden on amphetamines (now those guys are all in their 50s, it might be an idea) and broadened out slowly to display influences from Mercyful Fate, maybe someone like Savatage, plus the heavier end of the power metal spectrum. 'The Black Flame' largely dispensed with the fixation on speed metal and went a touch more classic, but heavier than before. 'Ravenous' straddles those two genres, bringing back some of the mad riff rush from the debut on songs like the athletic 'Speed On' or the crazed downhill surge of 'Mr Twisted', while maintaining the heavier approach on the hard-rock-with-Goliath's-testicles opening of 'Secrets We Keep' and 'Hail Caesar', which has a guitar tone as broad as the Roman empire. Both of these approaches work very, very well, the speedier parts especially lending a real adrenaline rush to the album: just try staying still in the mid-section of 'Curse You Salem' - I always look like I've got Parkinson's disease.
I can find almost nothing to fault in the first half on the album, apart from a slight spot of weakness on the cruising title track, but 'Voodoo' deserves a separate mention. To be honest, it's a pretty basic song, without any attack in the verse riffs, with very distinct vocals, and a chorus that relies on Niklas Stålvind's voice delivering one word in perfect harmony with the riff that booms out under it. It's a risk, since Wolf sound at their best and most natural when everything is turned up to 11 and the guitars are motoring along nicely, but 'Voodoo' prevails due to its catchiness.
There are a good few singalongs on here, but the album trips up towards the end, notably on some of the longer, slower songs. 'Secrets We Keep' just about holds off the ghosts of boredom by some nice twin/melodic guitar work, yet there's no denying the fact that it could use another riff or two to hold everything in place. The last two tracks are more problematic. 'Hiding in Shadows' is actually a good song, but it has the most unsavoury opening to any Wolf song I've heard, the first slow, doomy riff totally killing my buzz (I can't think of more appropriate way to put that) and the second being a futile apology. 'Blood Angel' has acoustic guitars in and suffers from being stop/start in places, though it's generally strong, if more reflective than is suitable for Wolf.
All this might sound picky, but that's the problem - I expect more from Wolf. On a positive note, no head shall remain unbanged, the vocals are great, though maybe not as crazy as previously, all the instrumentalists put in solid performances that are enhanced by a good production, and the solos are about 80% exquisite and 20% good. Also, owing to the small print in the devil's contract, Wolf manage to produce one set of actually great lyrics on 'Curse You Salem'. Judging by the fact that 'K-141 Kursk' on 'Legions of Bastards' was also the lyrical highlight of that album, I wish that Wolf would perhaps go to history for inspiration a little more often, since it seems to work well for them.
As a whole 'Ravenous' is more varied and inviting (one might say more accessible) than any previous Wolf album, a feature that opened the door to the band's recent output, which seems to stick to this formula and prosper from the different paths available. There isn't so much delicious adrenaline on offer here, but perhaps the band realised that they couldn't continue putting out speed metal albums ad infinitum and decided that writing catchier heavy metal songs would do no harm. Maybe I sound bitter, but there are still five or six truly awesome songs on this album, plus a few that are more than pretty good.
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.