Review: Wolf King – The Path of Wrath

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Turns out Wrath Path is right near Rippage Road and Whipsack Way.

Wolf King is a band from California that I didn’t have on my radar at all, and who confusingly get described as “blackened heavy metal” in the text that advertised them to me. At first, I thought this was a gross case of mislabeling, but as we shall see, there may be reasons for trying to break the description down to a kind of catch-all.

The first proper track after the fanfare-like intro comes out of the gate with a familiar sound, and it is not that of heavy metal, although the “blackened” part is quite correct. What it serves up is a very nicely executed mix of crust, hardcore, and black metal. You’ve got your d-beats, your big, mean breakdown-y parts, and a decent amount of blasting. It does a good job of introducing the main slabs of meat that the album carves its steaks from, and the next two tracks continue in a rather similar fashion, slightly shifting the balance between the elements to create a bit of versatility.

There are plenty of cool parts in these songs, but had the entire album continued in this fashion, I would have dismissed it as a solid, but ultimately unremarkable take on blackened crust/hardcore. Things changed, however, once “Sanctuary” hit. There’s just something about that riff together with that beat that made me perk up. It’s nothing complicated, but brings a kind of rowdy, swaggering death metal vibe that wasn’t present in the music up to that point, and it was here that I got the feeling that there may be more to this record than I’d thought.

Indeed, “Sanctuary” is the first in a 6-song run that just keeps going from strength to strength. “The Oath” goes for unexpected grandeur with its soft intro that erupts into raging black metal and marks the first point where the caustic, blackened vocals are backed up by clean singing. This altogether more emotional approach and the song’s structure evoke the feeling that they’re  going for grand storytelling here, something I would not have expected, but find to be pretty successful.

The end of the track flows straight into the “The Path of Wrath,” a short and sweet rager, which in turn flows into the sinister atmosphere of “Incantation.” Big and heavy doom riffs that nonetheless retain some hardcore flavour dominate the song, and they’re what stands out despite things livening up later on. It’s another hitherto unheard side of the band and comes at just the right time in the album’s flow.

Next up is “Grief Portrait,” which surprised me yet again with an infinitely more forceful take on an idea of black metal that was hinted at in “The Oath” and finds a very cool way to transition into the immensely fun “Beholder.” That’s another one that’s placed excellently: it shifts the focus back to the -core elements by leaning harder on crust and hardcore than any song since “Triumph of the Slain,” but somehow doesn’t forsake all those new elements we’ve heard since then. Did I mention it’s immensely fun? It is.

And that’s really all I’m trying to say: songs 5 to 10 on this record are fun. Really fucking fun. The way they mix genres, the way they mix tempos, the way they introduce surprising new elements without any of it ever feeling out of place. It may be for the sake of brevity that they kept the genre tag so simple in the press text. Anyway, they’re fun. I hope that comes across. If this was an EP with only these songs, a spot on the year-end list would be guaranteed. As it is, I’ll have to see if there’s something to the other half of the album that I’m just not hearing yet.

Those remaining songs are far from bad enough to consider them filler, but since I’m generally not big on that particular style, they don’t excite me nearly as much. Perhaps, though, the juxtaposition with these makes my favourites better? I’m almost certain that the reverse is true; I get the feeling that “Holy Serpent” would fare better out of context (which is the way you can listen to it at the time of this writing) instead of placed right after this all-crushing string of crushers. It’s a fine song, but it doesn’t quite sustain the high.

Then there’s the closer, which re-uses the intro, but goes on to weave a full song from it, and kind of seems to hit the same notes that “Incantation” already hit. Sadly, it doesn’t do it as well, and it doesn’t help that the last two minutes repeat a merely okay riff. It helps even less that the fadeout sets in just as the drummer starts doing all kinds of interesting stuff. It’s my least favourite song, but on the other hand, it would feel a little weird if the album ended earlier. I don’t know, man. I’m out of my depth on that one. I’m just here for that fun.

The Path of Wrath will be out on March 5th via Prosthetic Records.

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