The Black Flame
posted on 10/2006 By:
I’m typically the last person willing to dole out any over exaggerated praise to a band who so obviously handpicks their musical cues straight from the back catalogs of legendary metal bands and try to sell it as any sort of ‘re-emergence’ or ‘return to form.’ So I’ll have to swallow my pride when I say to Swedish heavy metal purists Wolf – stand up in whatever scourge-infested, hellbroth of a dive you call home, put down your can of beer, dust off that Saxon-patched denim vest, stop smashing that pool cue across the head of the square who just eyed your girl and take a well deserved bow. You’ve certainly earned it.
The band’s new album The Black Flame is a true living testament that not all NWOBHM inspired records released after the mid 1980s have to be tiresome, sub-par Maiden worship. And worse, put out by bands formed to get free drinks or backstage blowjobs from artificial blondes still playing host to the syphilis they procured back in ‘91 after taking on the entire line-up of Whitesnake (though it would be blasphemy to assume they wouldn’t accept either). While it would be impossible to overlook the heavy Mercyful Fate or Judas Priest influences on The Black Flame, Wolf have successfully found a way to distinguish themselves as a viable addition to the traditional heavy metal genre, instead of simply rehashing their equally leather clad heroes of old. The distinction can’t really be attributed to any of improvement or creative twist on the genre but rather to the fact that Wolf simply have the style down to an art form. Instead of writing songs that aspire to live up to the likes of their elders – the songs actually challenge the very throne they sit on. This isn’t to say they will be replacing Number of the Beast or British Steel in jukeboxes anytime soon – but rather that they might earn a spot along side them in home stereo rotation.
Each of the ten tracks on the record manage to wail through up-tempo power chords, high frequency guitar solos and the signature King Diamond-esque metal falsetto, all without coming across as overly nostalgic or kitschy. Even in the context of the narrow musical confines the band has set for itself, they manage to wring out the style for what it is worth. All the songs pretty much operate on the standard power metal skeleton of verse/chorus/solo - but within that, Wolf consistently captures the rough and rebellious flavor that made the style attractive in the first place, bullet belts and all. The production is perhaps the one, post-1987, element the band really uses to its advantage. Unlike most recent traditional or power metal releases, the production is full and clean without being overbearing or plainly cheesy. Niklas Stålvind’s vocals are not without the expected coat of ethereal gloss, but the guitars remain partially organic and by contrast sound heavier and far more modern than the bands that spawned them.
Overall, this album is, start to finish, an exceptional reminder that there are still bands out there that can competently play this style of metal. Veteran fans of the genre have probably been well aware of Wolf and their high profile presence in the European metal scene since their 1995 inception and won’t be surprised that the band has delivered yet again. With the American release of The Black Flame being handled by nu-thrash giants Prosthetic Records - it might get the band to the ears of many unsuspecting listeners – how they take it is anyone’s guess. There is no doubt that the album is pureblooded heavy metal, unaffected by any sort of ‘core’ or cutesy trend. The brilliance of the record may be lost on some casual listeners who find the lyrics, mostly dealing with graveyards of restless undead and other midnight mischief, too gimmicky to take seriously. But who says there is anything wrong with that? The point of metal like this is to enjoy it for what it is and not read too much into. Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have to find my broadsword, strap on some armor and get to the graveyard before the bell signals midnight – I hear Satan is making a cameo tonight and I need to be in top form to offer up my allegiance.
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