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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…"