Sometimes a band has a almost-but-not-quite grand debut, the kind of album that bears the weight of rookie flaws, but speaks of something larger to come. And then, sometimes, said band delivers tenfold on their next outing, absolutely shattering notions of sophomore slump. And sometimes the groggy-eyed scribe who said he'd review the album in question in a timely manner spends two months mulling over how best to put his emamorment into words. And that lands us here, with Wolf Blood’s II spinning for what seems the umpteenth time.
Wolf Blood is one of those bands who revel in throwing a bevy of ideas at the wall and hoping they stick. Unlike most who engage in such reckless activity, these folks are really damn good at making sure it all stays up there. It’s purely original stuff, and in this business, that's a significant and rare quality.
The dual vocal approach. The willingness to draw motifs from a bevy of heavy subgenre, from straight doom, to heavy psych, to sludge, to NWOBHM, to proto-thrash. The seemingly gleeful subversion of typical verse-chorus-verse song structure. You’ve all heard a doomy-ass riff before, so comparisons are largely unnecessary. Sure, the sludgiest riffs may recall the sheer weight of a Mastodon clambering from a tarry pit, while the tendency to move effortlessly between claustrophobia and exploration reminds me of Forming the Void, and the general songwriting prowess feels Domkraft-ian in scope. But for all intents and purposes, those sounds-likes are meaningless. Wolf Blood are undeniably a beast of their own--or rather, a beast of their own making. Instrumentally, the guitars, while obviously central, are exploratory and never feel stuck in a particular gear. Meanwhile, the low end is balanced and supportive, lending heft when needed but never overwhelming, and the drums are decidedly more central than your typical doom/sludge act. The most obvious calling card, however, is the glorious variation in the vocal department--with three vocalists in the fray, every track has a unique voice and personality. And yet it all feels like the work of one band. One cohesive unit.
Given the shifting nature of Wolf Blood’s approach, instances of repetition are exceedingly rare. It’s the overt distinctions between tracks that in many ways define them, and there are many such aspects and moments to love. The gentle rise-and-fall of the riff midway through “Story of a Drowning Man,” which succeeds enormously at recalling the movement and swell of the protagonist's environ. The menacing sing-song quality of Mindy Johnson’s vocals on “Lesion,” which weave and wend with the lurching, undulating, and otherwise sludge-ridden guitar, lending the affair a decidedly harrowing vibe. The visceral entirety of “Opium,” which, despite sliding out of the gate under 2.5 minutes, is packed to the brim with the kind of relentless aggression that even the hypnotic lull of Jakob Paulsrud’s cleans can disguise. The slow build of “Tsunami,” which results in an eventual deluge of...well, tsunamic proportion. This final track represents forward-thinking riffcraft at it’s finest, as the reflective post-rocky moments are, in time, crushed under the weight of the waves. Rest assured, there isn’t a bad track on display.
But II’s best foot forward is, after extensive reflection, the lean n’ mean “Kumate.” Crunchy combatt-boot’d riffs just...keep coming. Any one of these tasty riffs would encompass the entirety of a track from some lesser band. No question: “Kumate” is, for all intents and purposes, an absolute slaughter, accomplishing everything hard-hitting doom possibly can. Headbanging. Contemplation. Genuine and meaningful progression--an expression of movement, rather than simple amp-worshiping stagnation that has come to plague the low and slow in recent years. This latter point truly defines Wolf Blood; every track herein is imbued with purposeful momentum, a drive to push beyond what they have accomplished before. As both a critic and a massive fan, I consider myself inextricably invested in the longevity and wellbeing of doom metal, but with bands such as this holding the reins, I have little to fear in the way of desolate torpidity. Wolf Blood has ideas, but also the ability to execute without fail, and that is a potent combination. The alchemical recipe for success.
As with most things, there are several sticking points. For one: the percussive fills and dual vocals are a particular strength, but despite being the third shortest track on this joint, “Slaughterhouse” feels like it runs a tad long, taking the scenic route to reach the crunching drive of the outro. That’s not to say the Wolf Blood’s more high-octane moments are their most desirable, but rather that this marks the single moment on this album where I’m removed from the music in anticipation of what lies next. Otherwise, it’s worth noting that a quarter of the album is consumed by the excellent (yet previously released) “Tsunami.” It’s mean, it’s emotive, and it represents Wolf Blood to a tee, and yet, I wish there was more than half an hour of fresh content on II. That said, I applaud any attempt to keep a doom record under 45 minutes, so at this point, I clearly just want to have my cake and eat it too.
Nitpicking aside, II is a wonderful album, plain and simple. Wolf Blood neatly bypass the dreaded sophomore slump, and instead provide a work that one-ups their solid debut in every single sense. Sometimes taking time between albums pays off, and here, the five years of refinement resulted in one of the year’s clear doomy frontrunners. As evidenced, Wolf Blood have delivered one of those albums that you can truly lose time in, from the frenetic opening strains of “Lesion,” to the satisfyingly conclusive outro of “Tsunami. II is a triumph, and comes highly recommended.
Wolf Blood - II was released May 1st, 2019 from Riff Merchant Records.