Sweden’s Wolf Return to Their Dark Business on “Shadowland” (review)
While listening to Swedish heavy/power metal band Wolf, the elements of their sound that stand out the most are their precision-like riffing, tight rhythms, and those soaring vocal wails from guitarist/vocalist Niklas Stalvind. Wolf's 2006 album The Black Flame was a groundbreaking album filled with memorable tracks that put the band on the heavy metal map. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the band’s output since then, only to be enticed by its newest release Shadowland. One of the band’s downfalls has always been their somewhat cheesy and unfashionable lyrics, and have been accused of becoming a bit predictable with their musical formula on their past few recent albums.
With Shadowland, the band’s ninth full-length album, Stalvind stated that he initially wrote the album for his solo album or another project instead of one for Wolf. As the only remaining original member, it's not too far-fetched to claim that Stalvind is Wolf. From the first few notes of album opener "Dust," it’s easy to tell what makes the band tick so well. Those swirling, melodic guitar harmonies are so catchy and mesmerizing that it's unavoidable not to get reeled into the song immediately. From there, Stalvind's high-pitched falsetto wail and the catchy chorus leads to a very harmonic, Judas Priest-esque bridge, while the '80s-styled Accept/Priest riffing of follow-up track "Visions For The Blind" is equally as impressive, especially on the huge, hooky chorus.
One of the album's major themes is based on the darker side of humankind. This is where tracks "The Ill-fated Mr. Mordrake" (about urban legend Edward Mordrake, who allegedly had another face on the back of his head) and "Rasputin" (about the 19th century Russian mystic) fit into this theme rather eloquently. Stalvind's pronunciation during the main choruses of both tracks are so infectious, it's hard to hold back from singing at the top of your lungs. In fact, there’s a massive amount of melodic hooks and catchy singalong choruses throughout the entire album to become fully invested in.
It’s not all about speed or flash on Shadowland, as Wolf also displays some groovy, bluesy, classic rock riffs, most notably on "The Time Machine," which walks a similar path as an '80s Scorpions/Black Sabbath song. "Seek The Silence" has a very similar vibe as well. However, when Wolf does pour on the speed, it really works; such as on "Evil Lives," with its blazing rhythm section and galloping pace, and also on "Exit Sign," with its accelerated tempos and solid rhythm section. The album ends on a high note with "Into The Black Hole," decorated with swirling, mid-paced riffs, prominent melodies and an anthemic chorus. But the festivities aren’t over yet, as the band saved one of the best tracks for last with bonus track "Trial By Fire," loading the back half of the album with even more quality compositions.
Those of you who were on the fence about Wolf’s recent material, rest assured, the band has fully redeemed themselves on Shadowland and can be placed back in the front of the line of melodic heavy metal bands. The band’s strengths (i.e. the melodic riffs, the strong, catchy choruses and Stalvind’s trademark howl) really stand out on Shadowland, making this Wolf’s most engaging album to date.
Shadowland released on April 1st via Century Media.