Dear mother: my battle for acceptance in the brutal world of AMG Amalgamated Blogworks, Ltd. goes on. I’ve survived the gauntlet of milquetoast prog submissions and am a better man for it. There is no respite for the “New Guy,” however: this week my inbox greeted me with a fist to the face in the form of a French power metal album and I fear I may not survive this next phase. Power metal and France typically do not go hand in hand. When I was there a few years ago, the first thing I saw was a statue of a unicorn standing over a naked woman, gold dripping from its horn. That’s not really power metal, is it? And yet here we are, cranking Lonewolf’s eighth studio album, The Heathen Dawn, with a certain guilty pleasure [Clean out your probationary work dumpster. – Steel Management].
The proceedings start in an innocent and comical fashion, with an intro befitting the old Conan movies of the 80s – cheesy middle-eastern sounding strings, percussion, and choir – before breaking into what we all came to hear: an anthemic guitar opening that leads directly into the second song on the album, “Wolfsblut,” a rollicking, thunderous number. “Wolfsblut” is the first song with vocals, which is really the only issue on The Heathen Dawn. Founder/guitarist/vocalist Jens Borner’s pipes are definitely the weak point here. His gargling rasp is marginally acceptable, but becomes even more of a caricature than the genre itself. I’m sure fans of the band will point to this and say it’s part of Lonewolf’s endearing charm, but the issue with the vocals is the fact that Borner has a great deal of trouble hitting the higher notes. Why even try if you can’t stay in tune? Nowhere is this more evident than on “When The Angels Fall,” where Borner attempts to hit notes clearly out of his range. A good producer would not let this happen.
If one can manage to avoid focusing on the vocals, quality power metal abounds. Production is solid and modern-sounding. The rhythm section of Rikki Mannhard (bass) and Bubu Brunner (drums, and I hope these are stage names) pulverizes throughout and the twin guitar harmonies of Borner and Michael Hellstrom almost force you to punch the air with enthusiasm. The mix is balanced but aggressive, guitar-driven as one would expect but not at the expense of the rhythm section.
Lonewolf cite Running Wild as one of their primary influences, and that is clear throughout, although Lonewolf’s music is faster, more exuberant, and more power-ish than their idols: there are definite Grave Digger influences present as well. Musically these guys are precise and hard-hitting. Hellstrom’s solos lean more towards the melodic, Iron Maiden-esque variety rather than pure shred, and that fits well with the music. These guys are pros.
For the most part, Lonewolf stick to formula here, with the galloping anthems, twin guitar harmonies, and big riffs. They don’t like to throw curve balls at us at all on The Heathen Dawn – “Keeper of the Underworld” starts in muted fashion before the standard gallop takes over, and that’s as far as the band wants to deviate from the tried and true galloping, marching, punching anthems about days of yore. I say galloping a lot because that’s what the music makes me want to do. The Heathen Dawn has a great album cover, with the band mascot (a lone wolf-man creature) captaining a Viking boat of skeleton warriors across the sea (and the obligatory cool logo, where the L and F are mirror images). But the music doesn’t make me want to sail, it makes me want to charge into battle riding a fine destrier, gargling “Rise To Victory” at the top of my lungs.
Lonewolf bring the heat through thirteen hard-hitting, pummeling tracks. The band is extremely prolific: The Heathen Dawn is their fourth album in the past five years. Their formula is tried and true, and they stick to it here. Because of this it can be hard to pick any standout tracks – aside from “When The Angels Fall,” the songs are all of equally solid quality. If one can get past the gargling vocals, this is a fun album to spin.