posted on 4/2010 By:
I can only imagine the rush of hunting down and reissuing a long-outta-print gem. You're almost like the music industry's version of a mercifully Nick Cage-less National Treasure; searching through a freshly excavated masonic lodge, trying to locate that Jefferson demo he cut back when he was doing witch-hazel with his bro Madison. You know, the one where Franklin made his glass harmonica practically talk on that sweet John Antes cover on the flip side. Anyway, in reality, it's probably more like digging through a crate of dusty tapes in some old-folks thrift store purgatory that eternally smells like burnt tires and cat piss, but I'm sure you'll be sportin' the same vein-popping diamond-cutter once you snag a goodie.
The man behind Shadow Kingdom Records knows this bonerized feeling better than anyone. Over the past few years, we've gotten more than our share of big-brother pass-downs from Mr. McGrogan. Duder has definitely been mining the long-lost underground for fossilized rockers that have been transformed into petrol to run our record-buying engines. The latest? The cult-rock-infused werewolf obsessives in Wolfbane. And, not surprisingly, this disc makes you wonder why they were left to sink to the bottom of the tar pit, because they so perfectly encapsulate the NWOBHM enthusiast's trifecta of wants and needs; kitsch, naivety, and riffffffffffffffs.
Wolfbane collects two of the band's three demo tapes from the early '80s, back when they were fairly popular on the ol' pub crawl. Demo numero uno is going to appeal the most to the modern metal crowd, smashing together your usual Sabbathian-paced dirges with a bit of a “Faeries Wear Boots” bounce. But it's a bit more than your usual slow n' low, godfather-aping flow as there's a sprinkle of the blue-eyed riffin' of Spooky Tooth's darker stuff (“Evil Woman”) and the fetid air of the occult rock that was floating around the '70s underground right when the Wolfbane pack reached album buying age. So, based on that, we must be talking about some dedicated doomy denizens that spent their teen years sprouting hair in weird places and honing their skills in locked bedrooms, right?
Let's not make this out to be a well-groomed, professional affair. Wolfbane's first entry into the halls of metal bristled with a youthful uneasiness, as they still worked on wrangling their instruments under control, kinda like scene-mates Holocaust. Leads awkwardly bubbled forth like a dodgy water fountain being manned by a midget with palsy and the rhythm section can, at times, be like a barnacled and blunted anchor, scrapping the sea floor and searching for a hold. It's not annoying, though, it's endearing, like kids putting on Daddy Butler and Ward's suits and having their first fumble at a school dance; the kind of shit that you reminisce about twenty years down the road when you're trying to fulfill your serfdom in some oppressive cube farm. It just feels good...and right. Gight. Rood, even.
And, Gramie Dee's vocals are, uh, gight and rood in much the same way. Dee howls and growls like his lyrical source material (old werewolf flicks, surprise!) because his entry into the band's singer spot was unintentional and borne out of necessity; the three 'bane boys couldn't keep a steady singer so a trio they remained. Like Hendrix, Dee blossomed, contorting his amateurish pipes to fit this grander vision of lycan-infused horror. Some preening, vibrato-rich perm with a custom codpiece just wouldn't work on a song like “Leave Me.” The track's bluesy buzzsaw of a riff sounds like some long lost Leaf Hound bong-hit that was dragged through the grime and gunk of '80s English alleys. Nor would it sound right on “See You In Hell,” which is a slow-burner in much the same fashion, grinding a few sections to the grave for nine-minutes. Granted, the cut sure as shit does not need to be creeping close to double digits, but that's part of the appeal. At this point, they don't know better, they're still feeling stuff out, and when Dee just lets loose at the end, recording levels be damned, it's the kind of gamble, the kind of I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude that you only seem to get from musicians fresh out of their teens.
Wolfbane's second date in the studio showed maturation, but, as a result, they became a tad less explosive. The music is tighter, but because it was obviously polished in the pubs by having a constant stream of drunken, ahem, “constructive” criticism, it's less immediate. It still smells like roses, though, as Dee started to actively shred, the band embraced a bit more depth with some atmospherics, and the drumming and time keeping was now miles better, as Sid “Deke” Oxton's entrance allowed the group to gain a menacing strut, best evidenced underpinning “Midnight Lady”'s evil-mustachioed Thin Lizzy-isms (a bizarro world where Phil Lynott looks like Rollie Fingers and ties maidens to traintracks). It also entered them into a sound that's more readily identifiable as what we now consider to be NWOBHM, getting away from the slower tempos that dominated the work of those out on the fringes, those that were still prostrate in front of the altar of Iommi. But, it's all a bit too aware of its surroundings, trading the rough edges for a crowd-pleasing game plan. Ain't nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's more of a product and not a sorta voyeuristic window into the lives of some kids that loved metal so much, they were willing to push past their own limitations, which, ironically, is what really defined them. The uniqueness had been pawned for appeal.
And, that's where history finds these gents eventually ending up, as Wolfbane would see the full moon of commercialism and cut a third demo of more pop-oriented fare before splitting; which, I'm guessing, probably sounded like Demon or Warrior (and it does not appear here, which is my main complaint about this set. Might as well show 'em, warts and all). But, as talent often does, it congealed once more and floated towards the surface, as two-thirds of the guys would find themselves thrashin' it up in the mighty Blood Money a few years down the road. And, speaking of, Wolfbane actually led me to the feet of Red, Raw, and Bleeding which rips like no other; think a speedier Satan with a hefty set of sacks swinging between their legs. The opening chords of “Metalyzed” made me skivvies a tad tighter and, in that brief moment, I kinda felt like I was my own McGrogan, digging through the morass of the past and fishing me out a winner. So, Wolfbane definitely gains goodie status and is worth your time, especially if you're into metal's biggest big bang and you've worn through the grooves of your Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General wax. Plus, it has the true opportunity to be the pirate's map that gets you digging in some treasure-filled spaces. If you haven't already, starting your hunt here for under-appreciated NWOBHM gems ain't a bad place; the real bonus being Shadow Kingdom has already provided the shovel. Dig in.
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