I don’t know when it happened but at some point I become Cardinal Treble Yell, Debut Album Inquisitor to the twisted church of AMG. Once tallied it was a surprise to discover that debut albums made up a sizable portion of my body of work, so much so you could say I wasn’t expecting it. No one expects it. The chief reason for this is a desire to discover unknown bands…and expose myself to unfamiliar sounds…unknown bands and unfamiliar sounds… My two reasons are unknown bands and unfamiliar sounds…and also because I’m late when it comes to claiming promos… My three reasons are unknown bands, unfamiliar sounds and late promo picking…and lacking the time to consume the back catalog of long-in-the-tooth bands as prep for a review… My four …no… Amongst my reasons are… Look, Wasteland Stories is the debut album by Germany’s Wendigo and as debut album inquisitor I will be using an assortment of gruesome instruments to pry out all manner of secrets.
I had initially considered cold-opening the review with a mock interview of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, peppering him with questions about his new side-project, Wendigo, asking him why he decided to record it in Germany and what possessed him to lean so heavily into his back catalog rather than branch out and explore a new sound. I scrapped the idea because I didn’t want to confuse readers into thinking Wasteland Stories was a genuine Weinrich release, a very real possibility once you’ve spent even the briefest of moments with the record. The chugging, sanguine tone may tack to stoner rock/doom but a better descriptor would be Weinrich-esqe as much of the album is fashioned from pieces of Saint Vitus, Premonition 13 and The Obsessed.
This isn’t a damning criticism but it’s hard not to get a ripple of déjà vu when listening to the wistful “Desert Rider” with its twangy, bourbon-soaked chords. The bluesy somnambulism evokes the rich ochre of a sand-filtered sunset, allowing one to bask in southern comfort while “Back in the Woods” kicks out the jams with an up-tempo beat. What Wasteland Stories lacks in originality it makes up for with solid song-writing, memorable riffs and giving each track its own sense of character. This is best represented by the duo of “The Lonesome Golddigger Pt. I” and “Pt. II,” a long drink of charnel introspection and fiery solos. There’s a country swagger to the music, the personification of a dusty cowboy decked in biker leathers and while it’s couched in the moroseness of doom the excellent leads of Eric Post reminded me of those found on Metallica’s Load, a comparison that’s as much as a compliment as a surprise. These two tracks also serve to highlight the worst aspect of the album and what might be its defining element: the vocals of Jörg Theilen.
Theilen’s singing is best described as perfunctory and while the man puts his heart into it he’s not exactly sagging under the weight of his own talent. Often the vocals appear malnourished, with Theilen failing to hit the notes he strives for. At other times the performance is indistinguishable from a first take, an approach at odds with the polished nature of the music. When Theilen puts his back into it the results can be satisfying, like on “Iron Brew,” an exposed nerve that functions as the record’s best track. What I’ve described up to now paints Wasteland Stories as a competent if derivative take on stoner rock/doom, one that entertains but lacks a discernible uniqueness. That would be the judgement rendered were it not for the aforementioned “The Lonesome Golddiger Pt. II,” which features some pained black metal shrieks and rasps that calcifies the desolate nature of the subject matter. It’s an unexpected break in the reverie and gives the album some much needed bite.
According to Algonquian folklore, the wendigo is a mythological creature, one that shifts from man to beast and is feared for its cannibalistic nature. That Wendigo chose this legend as its namesake is fitting given the group feasts on the bodies of Saint Vitus and similar acts, an unsurprising outcome considering they started out as a cover band. The collection of songs on the record are stirring but had the quartet leaned into the fleeting black metal suppurations then Wasteland Stories would be a debut bristling with the firepower to stand out from the melange. I’ll be curious to see whether Wendigo broaden their horizons on subsequent releases or are happy to subsist as a Weinrich doppelgänger. The Inquisitor puts down his tools, satisfied that this debut has divulged every last morsel of information. Now, someone bring me a comfy chair.