Wolf – Feeding the Machine Review

Wolf came into being in the mid-1990s just as the metal scene was poised for a big retro nostalgia trend. A product of their time, they followed the lead of acts like Hammerfall and jumped aboard that “let’s do the 80s metal thing all over again” train with enthusiasm. Their 1999 debut mixed speed and traditional metal influences in ways big and small and managed to impart a degree of youthful vim and vigor to the olde timey sounds. As the band grew and evolved they continued to mine the 80s for all they were worth. After 2014s Devil’s Seed the band went silent and underwent personnel shuffles. 6 years later they reemerge from their steely cocoon with a new lineup, grisly, Korn-esque cover art and 8th album, Feeding the Machine. Vocalist/guitarist Niklas Stålvind is the only original member left standing, now joined by bassist Pontus Egberg (King Diamond) and drummer Johan Kullberg (Ex-Hammerfall, ex-Lion’s Share). There’s also a new sound this time, rooted in the past but decidedly more modern in vibe and texture. It’s a minimalist and stark one, and it comes as a bit of a shock at first. They’re still recognizable as Wolf, but this is quite a different take on metal from them. The key questions are, does the new style work, and after 6 years, was Feeding the Machine worth the wait?

Yes and no. The band clearly wanted to take a different approach on the material here and in interviews they spoke of the album as a fresh start. The new sound is riffy and very simplistic, with basic, mostly mid-tempo song structures. They do keep their penchant for dark, ominous moods however. Opener “Shoot to Kill” introduces this new approach gently, as it’s the most like the Wolf we know. It’s upbeat and energetic, but still feels too laid back and somewhat muted compared to their past output. Stålvind’s delivery sounds a lot like Metal Church’s Mike Howe, which is something I never noticed before, and though the song is fun enough, it’s also a bit underwhelming and flat. This is an issue that pervades the album as a whole, and though songs like “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Mass Confusion” are sort of catchy, they’re oddly blank too, keeping them at arm’s reach from my deep affection. There are successful cuts here though, like the aggressive title track, and standout cut “Midnight Hour.” The latter uses effectively catchy, direct riffing and packs a decent vocal hook come chorus time. It still feels super-simple and overly stripped down, but at least you can hear what this style could accomplish with better writing.

The darker vibe pays dividends on “The Cold Emptiness” where Stålvind’s vocals sound almost exactly like Mike Howe and his delivery pairs well some sharp riffing to create a memorable song. Another good moment hits with “Devil in the Flesh” which is faster and a bit sharper, reminding me of Overkill’s punky, edgy thrash. Unfortunately, the last third of the album takes a quality stumble, and none of the final three tracks really do much for me, though I appreciate the guitar-work on closer “A Thief Inside.” Basically there’s a little over one half of a fun album here with less stellar filler-grade material rounding out the 46:52 runtime. If they’d cut the last 2 or 3 tracks this would be a much stronger album overall.

I’ve always enjoyed Niklas Stålvind’s vocals and he sounds fine here, which is fortunate since the newly sparse sound makes him more crucial than ever. His guitar-work alongside Simon Johansson is solid, but many of the songs feel strangely empty and incomplete, with only simple riffs recycling. This makes certain cuts feel like early versions of song ideas yet to be fleshed out. They do find a biting lead and riff hook here and there, and when they relax a bit on “Spoon Bender” and let a little more lightness inform their playing it makes a big difference. That said, it feels like there’s a lot of open, empty space throughout the album which doesn’t always work in the band’s favor.

Feeding the Machine is an odd album with a series of successes and failures. It has the disadvantage of being reviewed the same week as Ambush’s much more vibrant and entertaining outing, and after a 6 year wait, this is simply an underwhelming return for the band. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not the Wolf album I’ll reach for in the future. My advice: sample, poach the better cuts and then go spin the Ambush album. Woof.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: wolf.nu | facebook.com/officialwolf
Releases Worldwide: March 13th, 2020

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