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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.