Wolfen. Never did I hear of them. As the album title suggests, they have three prior releases, yet the mighty Eye of Steel Druhm (like Sauron’s but more bloodshot) never spied them as they skulked through the Germanic underground. I don’t like that, since stealth wolfens are my least favorite kind of wolfen. Regardless, Chapter IV is their first album since 2006 (obstensibly because they were too busy hiding from The Eye to record anything). If this one is any indication of what the earlier platters had to offer, its perplexing they didn’t get more notoriety. They play a style that walks the line between traditional metal and thrash. It also has plenty of that “Germanic” vibe we all love so much. Their sound comes closest to Angel Dust, especially during their Bleed era, but there are also references to Accept, Grave Digger and Brainstorm. Chapter IV offers some rockin but accessible songs, and unfortunately, a few pedestrian ditties as well. Thankfully, Wolfen hits more often than they miss and this is a solid, enjoyable dose of ballsy, no frills metal with several memorable moments.
Things start smashingly with a series of quality numbers designed to get the blood angered up and pumping. The first six songs are all well done stompers and “D.F.A.I.T” and “The One” are highly addicting after only a few spins. There’s loads of aggressive, manly riffing, thunderous drums and typically rough-hewn, Germanic vocals. Good choruses, good song structures, they have it all down. Even when they slow things down for the grinding “Hole in the Sky,” it works well (largely due the vocals). It isn’t until the middle segment that things go a bit off track with some undercooked material like the comparatively bland “Unbroken” and the frightfully maudlin power-ballads “Dolor Mundis”and “Birmingham 6.” Now, I love me some cheesy power-ballads and I’m as quick as the next bloke to bust out the lighter and wave hands in the air. However, these two just don’t work and come across as awkward and weak, despite some respectable vocals. Seems Steel Druhm will be looking elsewhere for his cheese-ballad needs. Things recover nicely with stormers “Soul Collector” and “White Chapel,” both go for the throat and kick a fair amount of booty (“Soul Collector” has a particularly big, memorable chorus).
The vocals of Andreas von Lipinski are the big draw here. He isn’t the most talented singer but he knows how to sell a metal song. His style is similar to Dirk Thurisch of Angel Dust and more often than not, his delivery elevates the material. The guitars from Bjorn Gruen and Frank Noras are dependable and effective but not very technical. They throw some decent riffs at you, some in a more classic vein, others more aggressive and thrashy, but there isn’t a lot of flair on display. The solos are mostly underwhelming and simplistic but fit the songs decently enough. If you need your tuneage to feature Yngwie-style noodle mongering or neo-classical showboatery, you will be sorely disappointed here. Musical shortcomings aside, this pack possesses above average songwriting skill and most of the tracks have hooky little details that help them stick and makes this a sleeper hit of sorts.
A surprisingly catchy, engaging opus, Chapter IV mauled me sufficiently to trigger a hunt for their earlier stuff. If you like aggressive but melodic metal, this is well worth a try. Though I’m still not sure how Wolfen acquired a Predator style invisi-cloak, it matters not! I see them now and I’ll be watching, watching with a steely gaze.