Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Powerwolf - Call of the Wild (2021)

Call of the Wild sadly doesn't offer up anything new or nuanced as far as the Powerwolf formula. From the songwriting to the very samey look to the cover artwork, if could be mistaken for any of the last 4-5 albums they've released, and that seems such a shame, for a band which puts this much effort into its material to play it so safe, when the formidable talent they've got could be applied more creatively. More musical tones, more color tones, new concepts. I notice too that this seems to a trend among the European power sect, even my most beloved bands do enter these long ruts of redundant releases, you could have said the same for a Running Wild or U.D.O. Fortunately, they both still put out a lot of kickass albums over the majority of their career, and ALSO fortunate is that Powerwolf have at least come up with a more fun set of originals than they have in years. Combine that with the pretty amazing 3CD-set they've put together for their fans, and Call of the Wild, despite my misgivings, is still probably my favorite album they've wrought upon us since the first three.

You pretty much know the drill if you've heard anything they've produced over the last decade or so, the transition into the more orchestra-focused bombast of the Goth horror alternative to Sabaton continues, though even at their worst I think I enjoy what Attila and company come up with far more than most of the Swedes' material. Big, soaring heavy/power metal riffs, entertaining and often innuendo-strung lyrics and choruses, constant orchestration which almost always resembles the Wagner school, and Attila's distinct vocals which are delivered at the same quality and pitch they always have been, the guy shifting between his operatic tricks and the weight and volume that he needs to secure himself among that whole class of character-driven German power metal vocalists like Rolf Kasparek, Hansi Kursch, Kai Hansen, Andi Deris and Chris Boltendahl. The mix of strings and choirs is probably a notch higher quality than their previous shots, although it doesn't distance itself much structurally. The leads and riffs are good if not totally standout, the drumming is potent and the entire atmosphere of this could be heard to diamond cut the band's style into its most coherent yet. All of the songs here are fun enough, beyond the initial singles you've got stuff like "Varcolac", "Dancing With the Dead", "Sermon of Swords", "Undress to Confess" and "Reverent of Rats" which I'd be happy to mix into any Powerwolf playlist, and as with a lot of records, if you're new to this symphonic/operatic style of metal I think you'll easily be blown away by how professional and comfortable they sound in the niche.

Beyond the fact that it's 'more of the same but better', the bonus content here is quite excellent. There's a second disc of 'hits' from the band's catalogue in which they're joined by a number of other popular vocalists. A few of them try the wedge in 'extreme' vocals of folks like Alissa White-Gluz, Johan Hegg and 'Speed' Strid to mixed results, White-Gluz in particular sounds cheesy but then I've never been a fan of her style. The cleaner approaches taken by Euro power metal royalty Ralf Scheepers and Doro Pesch are quite though, and I was quite surprised by the results when they used some more Goth vocals like Chris Harms. All in all though, I enjoyed listening through this a lot, its another example of how the band gives its audience their money's worth, I mean if you're going to shell out $20-25 for the 3CD or 3LP it's just not something you'll regret. The final disc is the usual purely orchestral treatment of the new tunes, and some of them really shine here, especially at the end with the trio of "Sermon of Swords", "Undress to Confess" and "Reverent of Rats", all memorable enough to toss on your speakers when you're running your epic fantasy RPGs or wargames. Again, Powerwolf is all about the value, and these extra discs might end up getting at least 50% the play as the core album.

I will reiterate that I wouldn't complain if Powerwolf took some risks to evolve a little, maybe even 'devolve' a little back to the superb songwriting of their masterful Lupus Dei sophomore, still my fave after all these years. There were surely some symphonic elements, but they felt more restrained back then and I'd love if if they got back to more guitar-centric territory. New color palettes and artwork also wouldn't hurt; Zsofia Dankova's extremely talented and I think she could mix it up a little if they wanted her to. But as far as the overall Call of the Wild impressions, it's rock solid and I've certainly enjoyed the time I've spent with it so far, it would make a great crowning jewel to transition into territories even more haunted, atmospheric, lycanthropic, and hopefully, surprising.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (breaking down the altar and the verse)

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