Wolf – Shadowland (Album Review)

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A world wreathed in perpetual darkness.

Though the halls of metal fame are replete with bands that brought their craft to the world when the genre was at its greatest prominence, the most consequential ones are those that swam against the tide when popular sentiment was not on the art’s side. In the days following heavy metal’s initial rise and fall from mainstream consciousness, or more specifically the mid-1990s, a seemingly rag-tag fold of Swedish musicians with a vision sound to oppose the sentiment that metal was dead and buried, weathering a veritable storm of dismissal and ridicule in the process. But true to their namesake, Orebro-based trio turned quartet Wolf (initially known as Wolverine) forged their path with a ravenous degree of tenacity, led by the soaring vocal work, six-string wizardry and songwriting prowess of helmsman Niklas Stalvind. Now more than 20 years and 8 albums deep into their journey, this beacon of the old ways born anew have come raging forth with what might be their greatest studio accomplishment since 2006’s “The Black Flame.”

For those familiar with Wolf’s past compositional ventures, 2022’s “Shadowland” presents limited deviation from the established stylistic template, but refines it to such a degree that it comes off fresh and fierce enough to flirt with game-changer status. The animated riffing and driving feel of 1982-1985 Iron Maiden, accompanied by a darker aesthetic fueled by the haunting theatrical flourishes of Mercyful Fate and some occasional flirtations with progressive rock territory are all mixed into the sonic cauldron, resulting in 10 resounding metallic incantations (11 for those obtaining the CD) that flow like one colossal whole. Stalvind’s howling voice recalls that what if scenario when rumors of James LaBrie replacing Bruce Dickinson in the mid-90s were raging, while his and Simon Johansson’s guitar work recall the brilliant interchanges that took place between Murray and Smith, as well as that of Sherman and Denner roughly 40 years ago. But the manner in which they are employed and the level of potency behind the final product speaks to a band that is building on the past rather than dwelling upon it.

The musical and lyrical landscapes painted upon this studio canvass could be best described as a highly intricate collection of vivid and lofty stories set within a bleak universe. Kicking off the anthology is a fast-paced and menacing cooker in “Dust”, presenting a dark, vast and fatalistic metaphysical landscape with a creepy melodic guitar hook in tow, yet presents one of the more musically expansive versions of an opening banger to be encountered in the style. Following a similarly swift and elaborate approach, “Visions For The Blind” takes a slightly looser and more rock-oriented road, peppering itself with frequent lead guitar fills and landing on a dense, harmony-steeped chorus hook that could almost pass for Queen. The rapid-fire delivery of “Evil Lives” almost dovetails with thrash territory at times, and features some highly busy riff work even when the things settle from a chaotic roar into a driving groove, while the punchy drive of “Exit Sign” shifts to more of a Judas Priest feel in the riff department, though once the solo sections chime-in the Maiden vibes end up taking the wheel yet again.

“Shadowland” Album Artwork

But for all of the impressive bangers that this album rolls out, things shine their brightest when the deviations from the established template become their most blatant. Standing at the top of this hill is a rhetorical question about the human experience set to music in “The Time Machine” that leans pretty heavy into progressive territory, so much so that between the rhythmic nuances and Stalvind’s subtle similarities to LaBrie, that a noodling keyboard would be all that keeps it from becoming an early Dream Theater entry. Nipping closely on its heels is a truly creepy rendition of the famed Edward Mordake urban legend “The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake”, spearheaded by a set of masterfully crafted horrific melodic lines and subtle atmospheric twists. But one would be remiss not to also consider the heavy-ended nod to famed Russian figure and mystic “Rasputin” as well as the shuffling nod to early King Diamond minus the blaring falsettos “Seek The Silence”, which contains some of the most insanely flashy guitar work heard out of this outfit yet.

Though coming to light a quarter of the way through the year, “Shadowland” is the sort of crowning opus that screams album of the year right in the face of any upcoming contenders for said honor. In what could be described as a triumph following a period of personal struggle and decreased output in the latter half of the 2010s that culminated in the strong yet long overdue “Feeding The Machine,” this time around the current lineup of Wolf has fully integrated its newer rhythm section into the band’s paradigm and hit a creative wellspring that is sure to keep their growing legions of fans occupied for the next couple years. It successfully merges the raw intensity of “The Number Of The Beast” with the elaborate and expansive format of “Powerslave,” and throws in some brilliant nods to “Don’t Break The Oath” and “Screaming For Vengeance” in the process. For those who continue to insist that metal is dead, 55 minutes alone with these songs is all that will be required to get an engraved apology.

Released By:  Century Media Records
Release Date: April 1st, 2022
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Niklas Stalvind / Guitars, Vocals
  • Simon Johansson / Guitars
  • Pontus Egberg / Bass
  • Johan Koleberg / Drums

“Shadowland” track listing:

1. Dust
2. Visions for the Blind
3. The Time Machine
4. Evil Lives
5. Seek the Silence
6. Shadowland
7. The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake
8. Rasputin
9. Exit Sign
10. Into the Black Hole
11. Trial by Fire

“Shadowland” is available to purchase, HERE, and will be available in the following formats:

  • Black LP + Poster
  • White LP + Poster (limited to 300 / available at CM Distro)
  • Transp. Red LP + Poster (limited to 300 / available at EMP)
  • Transp. Orange LP + Poster (limited to 300 / Band exclusive)
  • Ltd. CD Digipak
  • Digital Album

9.5 Excellent

Purveyors and mainstays of Europe’s classic heavy metal revival Wolf follow up their impressive 2020 return with an even more refined and multifaceted expression of old school metal conservatism with a brilliant sense of melody and structure, potentially claiming album of the year status less than halfway through 2022

  • Songwriting 10
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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