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Lycanthropic Mischief - 97%

doomicus, September 27th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2009, CD, Shadow Kingdom Records (Remastered)

Wolfbane were a little known gem of a project that sadly can be categorized as one of the many NWoBHM acts that essentially ended up buried by time but nonetheless committed absolute brilliance to tape. Having formed in 1980 and splitting around ’84 they were rather short lived and only released (to my knowledge) two demos, one being eponymous in name, the other entitled “Bethany’s Sin”. Both are quality and collected in this particular compilation album which was put out by the always dependable Shadow Kingdom Records.

For reference, in sound the material reminds the ears of a quirky amalgamation of Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General, and a smear of Bulbous Creation. The compositions are quite doomy and carry a grimy street like swagger and b-horror movie sleaziness that is extremely infectious. As for the production, it is pretty lo-fi, as is often the case with demos but I find that this actually enhances the music and compliments the eerie feel of the release overall. The bass work is punchy and deliciously loose. It barrels its way through simplistic but effective and powerful riff work. This gives the songs a really meaty feel and strengthens the heaviness of the album to a great degree. The vocals of Gramie Dee are not all that dissimilar from Terry Jones of Pagan Altar fame, in that they are delivered in a nasally folky bray; but where Terry Jones carried an archaic majestic quality, Dee is distinctively less refined. Furthermore, Dee has a peculiar anguished edge to his vocal delivery and brings to mind a specific aura of debauchery and emotional grief which I can’t help being a sucker for.

As hinted at, the atmosphere of the six tracks on this release are pretty gloomy, albeit not without their fun. Narrative spoken word is utilized to frame the pieces in a couple of places that undoubtedly set a pulpy lycanthropic and murderous tone and it’s done to great effect—working with the compositions instead of feeling like an afterthought that shatters the “world” of the album. I am always surprised with how the recordings manage to feel as cohesive as they do, especially considering that they were pulled from separate demos. This I’d credit as being evidence that Wolfbane knew exactly what they were going for, and managed to capture it in sound very successfully. They even pull off a lengthy vengeful epic in the form of “See You in Hell”, a track dominated by a prowling bluesy slow burner of a riff that worms its way into the consciousness while a jammy break, later, brings everything home. This aforementioned song is a perfect display of how the band excelled at giving each instrument space and breadth—playing off of dynamics but still keeping it simple and to the point. There is a youthful spontaneity found here, and it propels this compilation out of the norm for the genre and places it instead on a higher tier. There isn’t really any filler tracks either, and each song has its own unique qualities that most listeners should delight in.

Upon Wolfbane’s dissolution a couple of the members went on to form the much faster and remarkably different feeling speed metal act Blood Money. Under this moniker a demo and two full-length albums were released, and while they’re pretty good they’re not nearly as distinctive and lack the special magic that made Wolfbane so special. It’s impossible for me to not wonder what could have been had Wolfbane stuck around longer, and what type of mark they could have made on the metal landscape. Regardless, this compilation will have to do, and it’s quality that counts, not quantity. I would solidly urge anyone with an interest in the doom-laden side of NWoBHM to check this out because it needs to be heard and the fact that this project largely remains cast aside as an obscurity is a damn shame.