Crust punk is an interesting beast. Stylistically speaking, its bludgeoning, relentless nature is closer to metal than perhaps any other style of punk, but only a handful of metal acts have dabbled in the genre. Vhol and modern Darkthrone have made admirable attempts at bringing crust to the metal masses, but ultimately the genre has flown under the radar of most fans. Sweden’s Wolfbrigade (formerly Wolfpack) attempted to meet metal fans halfway five years ago with Damned, a fantastic metallic crust album that was borderline revolutionary considering the stalwart nature of crust punk. It failed to grab the attention of the scene despite notable black and death metal influence, but the band spent five years gearing up for a second attack. So much time spent refining less than thirty minutes of music should have resulted in a killer product, yet Run With the Hunted, Wolfbrigade‘s second album through Southern Lord, feels like a decidedly lesser effort.
If you’ve already discovered and enjoyed Damned, you should find Run With the Hunted similarly up your alley, if not quite as far. This is still Wolfbrigade experimenting with injecting metal into their decades-old, d-beat driven formula, and in some instances the metal influences here seem even more overt. The central riff of “Lucid Monomania” is essentially straight thrash, “No Reward” is laced with melodic riffs from the school ov Dissection, and “Kallocain” is bookended by a total earworm of a pagan metal lead guitar line. What I believe makes this record even more appealing, though, is Wolfbrigade‘s unflinching attitude, a simultaneous embracing of both the heaviness and dark melody of metal and the limited playbook by which crust lives and dies. Even on RWtH’s back half, which mostly drops the metal influence, the band’s metallic spirit is still tangible, perceivable through a scattered selection of blackened melodies and riffs. It’s great to hear that Wolfbrigade‘s experimental spirit is still alive and well.
What’s definitely not great to hear is Run With the Hunted’s sound. While far from dynamic, Damned had a monstrously hard hitting production that emphasized the record’s low end, sounding more like a Swedeath release than a crust album. With RWtH, all of the components sound flat and colorless, and they all run together into one big noise puddle. This is one of the most boring mixes I’ve heard so far this year, and the utterly obscured bass and godawful drum sound only amplify my frustration. The drums sound completely artificial, with the snare and bass drum in particular sounding empty and clicky to the point of being almost identical to each other. To make matters worse, any guitar layering essentially slumps together, nearly invalidating some great guitar lines that should have been the highlights of their respective tracks. Somehow, the production gives the impression that it’s not just poor, but also unfinished.
If there’s any other disappointing factor on Run With the Hunted, it’s that it never seems quite as successful as Wolfbrigade’s prior album at branching out from plodding D-Beats. Sure, I love the intro and outro of “Kallocain,” but its midsection plays it safe when it could have taken a few more experimental steps to create the album’s standout track. As it stands, there’s no highlight on the level of Damned’s monumental “Ride the Steel.” While all of the songs are good, the record is almost too consistent, in that it could have benefited from a couple of standouts to give it more shape and personality. Wolfbrigade’s melodic sensibilities, though, are still very much intact. If you’ve never listened to one of the band’s albums before, certain lead guitar melodies may surprise you; the best ones, especially on “Dead Cold,” straddle the divide between mournful and uplifting, occasionally crafting moments similar to last year’s highly emotive (and excellent) Morrow record.
Run With the Hunted is far from a bad album, and Wolfbrigade still sounds like Wolfbrigade. Yet while half a decade spent waiting for new material should have resulted in Damned 2.0, it plays more like Damned 0.5, not quite touching that album from a songwriting standpoint and plagued by ludicrous production decisions. Fans of the band’s past work will find a lot to like here if they can look past the mixing issues, but I doubt this album will win them many new fans, or new converts from the metal community.