Weak effort from a great band – 75%
The first time I listened to ‘Devil Seed’, I remember feeling disappointed by the halfway mark. For me, Wolf was unconditionally my favourite band for about a year, though now they have become a band I love immensely but can’t quite recapture that initial spark of amazement with. There are several songs on every Wolf album that send a chill down my spine and an excess of blood into my heart; something about their riff assault, the quality of their solos, and the sense of desperation and madness in Niklas Stalvind’s voice is capable of turning me on and making me alive like nothing else. However, that brilliance has been in shorter supply these last few years and I believe that ‘Devil Seed’ represents the band’s weakest effort to date.
If you have never heard Wolf before, you might be forgiven for looking askance at this last comment. How can an album such as this, which is rich in melody and hooks, with some great riffs and powerful vocals, be accused of weakness? I admit, the first couple of Wolf albums were hanging on the coattails of Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ album, Helloween’s ‘Walls of Jericho’, and something a little more bloody-fanged, such as Mercyful Fate or Omen. The modern Wolf has a more “mature” sound that isn’t so speed hungry or infernally adrenalised: listen to ‘Skeleton Woman’ and the Spanish acoustic solo with its following slow bridge would have been impossible a decade before – nay, more than impossible, the band would actually have set fire to the Spanish guitar and hurled it down a flight of stairs until it shattered into a thousand jagged fragments. The excitement from those first albums started to burn out halfway through ‘Ravenous’ and has returned more diluted on each subsequent release. However, something essential has been maintained from the beginning of the band, something that isn’t really a style but more a trait of the band. It’s danger, pure and simple. There’s something that happens with Stalvind’s voice or a particular tinge in the organisation of the riffs that makes me unable to relax and unable to stop listening closely, a little like the first time you heard Mercyful Fate and, since then, have never forgotten what they sound like because all their songs have a common character.
That’s still present in ‘Devil Seed’, even if the danger is sparser on some of the songs and the excitement a little less gripping at a slower pace. What seems strange for a band so long in the tooth as Wolf is that ‘Devil Seed’ actually represents a noticeable shift towards a catchier, less complex sound: there are few songs that are very difficult to play, and ‘My Demon’ really slows down to a chord-based hard rock sound with only some licks and a heavy guitar tone keeping it on the verge of heavy metal. Speed is both objectively and subjectively lacking, with none of the gonzo rush of the early albums, nor the incredible intensity of ‘The Black Flame’ that made everything heavier and faster even when it wasn’t actually so. As such, this album might be accused of being light – neither dark nor heavy – and that’s accurate to an extent. The calmer moments, like ‘Skeleton Woman’ and ‘The Dark Passenger’, mirror what has happened to Iron Maiden in the last decade or so, though Wolf never waste our time in the same way; then the catchy songs, like ‘My Demon’ and ‘I Am Pain’, are pretty classic metal and don’t quite have the signature Wolf sound, even if they are decent; finally, we get the heavier, faster songs ‘Shark Attack’ (and its introduction) and ‘Back From the Grave’ that howl and pound like this band did at their inception. The album is thus varied and skillful, without ever being risky or pioneering.
It’s telling that everyone has picked out the same songs from this album as strongest, because ‘Shark Attack’ and ‘River Everlost’ mark the two extremes of Wolf’s sound and prove to be an indicator of the split in the group’s personality. The former is easily fastest and heaviest among the songs on ‘Devil Seed’, and is most exciting as a result, driving straight to the emphatic point without any trouble. It isn’t the best speedy song from this band, but it stands out a mile on this album. ‘River Everlost’, on the other hand, is a symbol of Wolf’s newer sound, with a much more controlled, atmospheric delivery, a chugging rhythm guitar, frequent melodic solos, and an impassioned vocal delivery. It works because it has an exquisite sense of timing (the riffs alone are just alright) and because Stalvind is savage behind the microphone. The closing ‘Killing Floor’ is also great because of his exertions and boasts a riff along the lines of the previous album’s ‘K-141 Kursk’ that will stay in your head for weeks. All too often on this album, however, Stalvind’s vocal performance sounds simply adequate, and it causes songs like ‘The Dark Passenger’ and ‘Surgeons of Lobotomy’ to deflate, since little excitement is also coming from the other instruments.
The more relaxed vocals are just one feature of this album’s shift in style. Those hungry for riffs like normal people are hungry for bacon will be disappointed, since there is little to air guitar along with in the rhythm department, barely throwing out one good riff per song and certainly not competing with the offerings from any of the band’s first four albums. Solos saved ‘Legions of Bastards’ from being merely good, but they don’t have the same impact here: used less frequently, they often sound conventional and without a distinct character, as I have come to expect from Wolf. There’s a great lead section on ‘Frozen’, ‘Back From the Grave’ has some fast solos, and the previously mentioned ‘Skeleton Woman’ is cool, but there isn’t a whole lot else to indulge your ears with. I rarely notice the bass, since it’s played reasonably straight, though there’s an interesting riff in ‘Surgeons of Lobotomy’ that it grinds all over, while the drumming is actually the thing that sounds least changed.
I had to leave it a long time to review this album, because I wasn’t sure if my initial reaction to it was just a result of my high expectations, or if there actually was something wrong with ‘Devil Seed’. I’ve got the special edition with two extra covers, and listening to ‘Missing in Action’, it’s maybe the highest energy song on the CD, so I know that something has gone a little astray for me to be saying such a thing. We don’t have a terrible album here, and I firmly believe that Wolf are incapable of creating one, but there are reasons for long-term fans to be upset, even while there are reasons for newcomers to the pack to be pleased.Devil Seed Weak effort from a great band – 75% The first time I listened to ‘Devil Seed’, I remember feeling disappointed by the halfway mark. For me, Wolf was unconditionally my favourite ]]>