Wolf King‘s impressive debut LP Loyal to the Soil dropped back in April and marked the young Californian band as an act to watch. Vitriolic blackened hardcore sits at the core of Wolf King‘s sound, with sludgy beat-downs and whiffs of grind fleshing out their confident and aggressive formula. Although by no means a pair of peas in a pod, there’re certainly some aesthetic and tonal similarities with Germany’s Mantar, with Wolf King arguably having the upper hand when comparing their 2018 releases. As a debut LP this is a well-crafted offering, with the passion and aggression the band applies lending the album its power and potency, not to mention Wolf King‘s firm grip of songwriting dynamics and solid riffcraft.
Kicking off with opener “Hail the Ash,” Wolf King briefly lulls the listener into a false sense of security with a thick but restrained sludge rock intro, which abruptly gives way to a barrage of searing blasts and pained screams. It’s a solid primer that also showcases Wolf King‘s songwriting dynamics and smart shifts in tempo. It’s especially easy to get on board with their slowed down passages of sludgy, groovy riffage and weighty tones, sitting comfortably aside the violent explosions and charred, blast-beaten flurries. And the spiteful hardcore edge serves its purpose by adding headbanging, streetwise attitude to the blackened violence. Wolf King‘s harmonious chemistry between their colliding styles works with often surprising coherence, locking in an overall spiteful tone that makes for an intensely gratifying and cathartic listen.
“Loyal to the Soil” excels across its contrasting parts I & II. The former’s jagged rhythmic might and sludgy mix of hardcore and death metal strike like a hammer blow to the skull. Meanwhile, the latter revels in an unsettling atmosphere and a slow building intro, keeping the tempos slow and heavy in a doom-sludge crawl, as anguished and intense vocals cut through the muck. “Greater Power” bottles the band’s intensity into a raging slice of nasty blackened hardcore, complete with a mammoth, groove-laden conclusion. And although Wolf King‘s sludgy, riff-laden power plays and a massive sense of groove provides plenty of highlights, it’s most invigorating when they really put the foot down and embrace their speedier, more aggressive and blasting tendencies, well highlighted on the excellent “Sorrow’s Reach.”
Naturally, at this early career stage, there’s ample room for further development, but the signs are promising considering the overall strength of Loyal to the Soil. Wolf King has consolidated a solid formula and aren’t afraid to tinker with their sound, supplying ample variety in tone and structure within their cohesive meshing of styles. Still, the eleven track effort could have had increased potency with more stringent editing, though the album closes strongly with the gritty bite and swaggering grooves of “Shepherd of the Flock.” The production is a tad on the loud side, but the trashy, almost live-sounding recording suits Wolf King‘s style very well and the individual performances are all on point.
Wolf King already possess the knack of being able to blend different styles into a cohesive and destructive whole, which bodes well for a bright future. Loyal to the Soil is a vicious, belligerent metal album, equipped with oodles of solid hooks and in-your-face aggression. Loyal to the Soil firmly placed Wolf King on my radar, and amidst the overwhelming bounty of releases in 2018, remains totally worthy of your time.
Tracks to Check Out: “Hail to Ash,” “Sorrow’s Reach, and “Greater Power”