Lonewolf could desperately use some time off. Raised on Metal culminates a decade-long span that saw seven LP releases, including a peak of increasingly unaffecting albums between 2012-2014. The gap to 2016’s The Heathen Dawn revitalized Lonewolf‘s sound, suggesting that even a mild breather can do them some good. Not one for learning from their mistakes (or enjoying life or its many bounties), the Frenchmen offer yet another album for judgment, nary sixteen months later. Shockingly, springing for the rush delivery does Raised on Metal little good, as Lonewolf return to the same over-stretched, unoriginal tropes that The Heathen Dawn did well to avoid.
“Unleash the Wolf” wastes little time, coursing through your veins like a jolt of heavy metal lightning. Zipping from verse to chorus and back, Jens Börner’s gruff vocals vanguard an assault that blends the thickness of Grave Digger with the pirate riffs of Running Wild. With The Heathen Dawn, Lonewolf proffered successful parallels to the catchier elements Powerwolf and Sabaton. Raised on Metal operates differently. The core of the album revolves around a less original sound operating in well-tread heavy metal territory. That’s not to say that Powerwolf and Sabaton haven’t worn their own sound down over the years, but hearing their influences in a band not so beholden to repeating the same chord progressions was refreshing. “Souls of Black” and “Flight 19” retain some influence from years past, but by and large Raised on Metal never ventures far outside its comfort zone. The title track continues the metal community’s on-going project to explore every possible permutation of the quintessential 80’s worship track. This time it’s Running Wild – who ironically did their best work in the 90’s – that get the shine. The riffs themselves carry a tight tune that highlights Lonewolf‘s strengths and minimizes their flaws.
Riffs like that of the Iron Maidenesque “Through Fire, Ice and Blood” excel in short doses, but Lonewolf fail to develop them enough to make a four-to-five-minute runtime worthwhile. Raised on Metal errs on the side of simplicity – big surprise, I know – but Lonewolf‘s prototypical riffs can only carry them so far. Tracks that mostly figure into a tried (tired?)-and-true formula of verse-chorus, bridge-solo, and on to
an uptempo version of the chorus the big finale. Shorter track times cannot help “Unleash the Wolf” and “Skinless Smile” when they proceed so predictably that that the involuntary knee bounce that starts at their open peters out by their finish. “No God, No Master” strikes a darker tone, venturing into the forges of Isengard rather burning rubber with Saxon. However, it never finds the foot-stomping catchiness that makes sacrificing its standard speed worthwhile. This lack of catchiness is writ large across Raised on Metal, with Lonewolf doing very little to elevate their music above generic status.
The best moments on the album come from the upbeat Running Wild influences, with strong production and unflagging energy introducing elements reminiscent of power metal. Börner plays second fiddle in these situations and the album is better for it. Börner is unflinching in his commitment to his permanent glottal stasis, forever stuck on cut-rate Joakim Brodén. He offers no range beyond husky man growls and provides no depth to an album that could use some. The result is a heavy metal album with not the slightest propensity for catchy choruses. His riffwork tandem with Michael Hellström makes up for some of this deficit. They thankfully forgo an attempt at a Grave Digger ballad that I cannot see working, no matter the strength of the riffs. Charles Greywolf’s production too helps out in the regard, if only by making the album thick and meaty but without sacrificing the flexibility that allows it to speed up and down at will.
With an album titled Raised on Metal and an musical approach touted as “back to the roots,” I am thankful I wasn’t treated to a bevy of Manowar and Accept ripoffs. Still, that doesn’t prevent Lonewolf from stepping right into heavy meta’s legacy of homogeneity. Their Running Wild riffs offer some head-turning capabilities, but hell, it isn’t even the best Running Wild worship this year. Raised on Metal isn’t so closed-looped to fall into heard-one-song, heard-them-all territory, but it comfortably resides in heavy metal’s pocket without the standout characteristics to make it pop.