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Blessed Be Black Wings - 96%

CHAIRTHROWER, July 16th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2002, CD, No Fashion Records

I'm sure my fellow reviewers agree there eventually comes a time when current projects need to be postponed so priority may be given to more pressing issues which have been stewing on the backburner for far too long. In the case of this humble heavy metal loving worthy the review in question is for Wolf's Black Wings, released back in '02 under No Fashion Records. Now, I've been meaning to throw my two cents in regarding this beastly NWOBHM inspired (melodic) speed metal release since day one yet procrastinated out of fear I'd fail to do it justice ("I'm not worthy!"). Here goes, as it's over a year in the making.

Clocking in at just under three-quarters of an hour, Black Wings is the Swedes' second shortest offering after its promising, if not rough hewn self-titled debut from 2000 yet manages to squeeze in a wide variety of enterprising Judas Priest/ Enforcer/ In Solitude style guitar/ bass riffs and ambitious solos, an unmistakeable Wolf hallmark attested by outstanding lead breaks so integral to its identity (the gate crasher kicking off the third track (and definite highlight) "I Am The Devil" most assuredly gets the blood pumping). Along with fellow axeman Johan "Blade" Bülow, front man/ guitarist Niklas "Viper" Stalvind (which translates to "Steelwind" in English) - who also fronts emerging doom metal act The Doomsday Kingdom - does a stellar job of leading his pack of "traditional" metal stalwarts, Bülow, Mikael Goding (bass) and Daniel Bergkvist (drums) on this affair, from its kick-ass opener, "Night Stalker", right up to the chrome dome bashing Mercyful Fate cover, "A Dangerous Meeting". That said, I love the first verses to said fury infused instigator:

"I walk alone in a crowded street
A sneaking lonesome stalker of the night
Suspicious eyes that I meet
Always look upon me with deceit
I can feel insanity
Crawling down my spine
Because I am so insane
Really so insane

Here in space minds ablaze
Burning frenzy, yeah
You can't see inside of me
Through my twisted stare..."

Although I've already used the analogy, forgive me as it's called for once more. Once Black Wings gets going with the above (partially) quoted "Night Stalker", an uber-jangling ensemble of sharp revolving riffs to the backdrop of hook-laden bass lines, lean and mean drumming and decidedly sinister vocals, it's not long before I feel like I'm repeatedly stepping on that rake again, only for it to surge up and thwack me full-on in the shnozz again. Stalvind doesn't overpower the senses as say, RAM's Oscar Carlquist or Portrait's Per Karlsson but man does he deliver! His voice also has an endearing accent-tinged quality comparable to Enforcer's Olof Wikstrand; it's the perfect counterpoint to his otherwise agreeably disconcerting yawping which makes him, along with Wikstrand, one of my favorite modern-day vocalists. Pedestrian track name aside, "I Am The Devil" - along with "Night Stalker" - exemplarily showcases Stalvind's grounding (and haunting) cadence as well as a strong penchant for catchy choruses (like his addicting prose on "Hope To Die" from Wolf's sixth opus, the "skull crushing" Legions Of Bastards from 2011, of which I'm quite fond of!): "I am the children of the night/ The storm in you that kills the light". Not only is he a great guitarist but a talented orator perfectly suited for a band of Wolf's ilk.

Black Wings has been fondly described as "quite literally insane" - this is largely due to its unrelenting and visceral full-throttle breakneck pace, discernible on the first five tracks in particular, especially my preferred one, the septic and raw, highly JP-ish "Venom". I first heard this wicked track on a city bus (in a small bumpkin-ish town no less!) and I'm pretty sure I came off looking like quite a fool in my fellow patrons' eyes. If they only knew! The killer opening guitar riff makes me feel like I'm having a meat hook scraping the inside of my noggin whilst getting repeatedly jabbed in the ribs with the business end of an ice pick by Bergvist's tight-knit, cozy beats and Goding's eerily pulsing bass line. As well, "Venom" reserves a nice surprise twist at 03:28 ("I am the dawning of a thousand million years…") when Stalvind and his band mates ramp up the main riff, thus closing on an even higher note than expected. Make sure to definitely keep your "ears" peeled for this one!

Admittedly this running pack seems to lose some its legs somewhere in the middle with "The Curse". While not outright disappointing, it lacks the stunning darkness and grace of earlier fare, notably the assiduously intricate and melodic leads to "A World Bewitched". No matter though, since Black Wings as a whole remains one of my three favorite Wolf releases. Don't ask in which order as I couldn't provide an answer. I can say for a fact the earlier material is definitely where it's at while each album (seven all told) contains sure-fire winners and are worth looking into for any self-respecting heavy metal fan. Oh, Wolf's cover art has improved by leaps and bounds since its 2000 incarnation, what with the self-titled debut's ludicrous depiction of a bewildered and bizarre looking specimen of "canis lupus". Aside from this, a worldwide legion of "wolf men" is holding its breath for a highly anticipated eighth release, which won't come too soon!

While I've no reproach towards less jarring tracks such as "Demon's Bell" or the aforementioned "The Curse", it's really "Night Stalker", "I Am The Devil", "Venom", "A World Bewitched" and album closer, the rad cover of Mercyful Fate's "A Dangerous Meeting" which force the (silver) bullet through the bone. As well, I'm also sure many agree an extra % point should be added as a bonus for Black Wings' "insanity" factor.

"Dark as a shadow
Sharp as a knife
An arctic breeze as cold as ice
Deep as an abyss
Sweet as a kiss
A burning hellfire on the rise

You say you don't know my kind
Although I dwell in your mind

Venomous viper
Sinister deeds
An ancient force from a nether world
You love its curse you cannot resist the urge
Addicted blood yields to the need…"

Like dynamite in your arse - 97%

gasmask_colostomy, January 6th, 2016

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.

Better cover artwork this time! - 74%

Corimngul, February 16th, 2005

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.

I am so glad I checked into this band - 89%

PowerMetalGlory, September 12th, 2003

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.