Blackened death metal is like pizza. Just as mediocre pizza is still generally satisfying, so too is decent blackened death metal still pretty enjoyable when you’re craving something extreme. Case in point: Chicago’s Blood of the Wolf. Formed in 2013, this quartet boasts a strong pedigree in the Chicago scene, bringing experience from Rellik, God Dementia, Kommandant, Asphyxiator, and a host of other underground acts. That experience was certainly evident on 2015 debut I: The Law of Retaliation, whose relentless blastbeats and epic melodic riffing were perfect for someone still reeling from how mediocre the last few Hate albums have been. Sophomore record Campaign of Extermination coincidentally arrives just after I eradicated some rodents from my own apartment, but will Blood’s sonic weaponry deliver the same killing power as my peanut butter-laced mousetraps, or is this wolf really just a one-trick pony?
Fortunately, things typically lean closer to the former. At heart Campaign is built from the same brutal armament as Retaliation: take a foundation of machine gun blastbeats, add in some bashed chords that often erupt into glorious streaming melodies, wrap the whole thing in a clear and modern production, and presto — you have what sounds like a more militant and melodic version of Belphegor. Vocalist and guitarist Mike Koniglio is the cherry on top, reaching back to his Rellik days to deliver a gruff and commanding roar that evokes comparisons to Hate or Krisiun. Yet unlike the chugs those acts often employ, Blood prefer instead to use continuous blasting to generate a transcendent sense of force, which — combined with the soaring riffs — makes them sound thunderous, dominant, and empowering.
Opener “Thunder the Drums of War” shows this as well as anything else, combining all these elements into a tight two-and-a-half minute runtime that hits hard, flies high, and paves the way for the rest of these 8 tracks to storm in. And storm they do – mid-album highlight “The Sword Is My Light and Salvation” is especially potent, combining a crunchy staccato riff, tense intervals, and a simple cleanly picked motif into one of the album’s best tracks. Yet beyond this naming highlights isn’t easy. I could mention how the meteoric swirling guitars of “With Fire and a Thousand Flashing Blades” evoke the terrific melodic tremolos of Rotting Christ, but this same trick is employed in plenty of other places on the album to similar effect. For how much I love Campaign when it’s playing, it doesn’t often deviate too far from its base formula, making it an enjoyable if somewhat homogenous 35 minutes.
To be fair, Blood do mix it up at times, but it doesn’t always work. Third track “Beneditio Ultionis” is a sluggish cut that leans too hard on a sharp cleanly picked motif that simply isn’t interesting enough to build a song around. Likewise, the preceding title track features some nice tremolos but otherwise feels pretty rote, making Campaign’s first half sag a bit compared to what comes later. Fortunately, the production fits Blood’s aesthetic perfectly, with a clear loud sound that commands your attention without inciting fatigue. I also absolutely love the slightly clicky sound of the bass drums, which accentuates their blasting power in a way that reminds me of Behemoth’s Demigod, which is never a bad thing. Closer “A Sermon of Slaughtered Foes” also shows the band can successively mix it up on occasion, providing a smoldering end to Campaign with its marching riffs and acoustic plucking.
In all, Campaign feels like the quintessential good album. It’s the type of album that’s an easy listen for genre aficionados, the type of album you put on when you’re craving the style but don’t want to focus too hard on what you’re listening to. It’s easy to enjoy the tight performances, melodic inclinations, and sheer sense of force these Windy City natives deliver, but that doesn’t mean it’s without fault. In the future, a few more noteworthy riffs, deviations from their base template, or even some destructive chugs could really elevate Blood of the Wolf above the pack. For now, fans of Azarath, Spearhead, or other blast-heavy blackened death metal are sure to enjoy, as is anyone with a craving for the genre’s equivalent of pretty good pizza.