Released: 2007, Blastard Entertainment
Direwolf is not so much a band as it is a one-man labor of love. Very few artists have the determination to see a project through when it takes seven years to complete, but that's exactly what Mike Lerner - guitarist for Brooklyn, New York's absurdly talented prog-metal instrumental trio Behold...The Arctopus - has done in the form of BEYOND THE LANDS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. Direwolf was conceived of by Lerner in 2001 and during the inexorable march of time since then has gone through various stages or writing, recording, revising, and re-recording at his home studio before finally arriving at the finished project, a fifty-minute sci-fi-themed concept album that quite simply defies attempts to classify its contents.
Lead-off cut "World War IV" give you a strong taste of what you're in for throughout the course of the album - absurd technical guitar work, futuristic-sounding proggy keyboard lines, and vocals ranging from black metal rasp-screams to multi-voice vocoder-enhanced choral clean parts to dramatic narration and back again...all in the first two minutes of the nearly nine-minute track! I'm not a big fan of the particular Emperor-ish variety of black metal vocals used, but they seem to work pretty well in this particular setting. Hyperkinetic percussion abounds, but its effect is slightly lessened by the fact it's all provided by drum machine. Only slightly, though, because the effort involved in programming such complex and fluid-sounding drum lines must have been a monumental undertaking in and of itself. Time signatures and sonic textures hop from one extreme to another faster than a jackrabbit on amphetamines, a lush acoustic Spanish-sounding guitar passage drifts in from seemingly out of nowhere, psychotic shred-guitar leads fly fast and furious, yet somehow it all manages to hold together as a unified song concept.
Save for the short finale "Epilogue," which is composed entirely of acoustic classical themes and battle sound effects, almost the whole album continues this chaos theory-in-action maelstrom of black, death, prog, jazz, and ambient stylistics. Discernable but never overly-obvious influences read like a laundry list of progressive / prog-death masterminds...imagine throwing into a blender one part Watchtower, one part Meshuggah, a touch of Spiral Architect, a bit of THE KEY-era Nocturnus, a little of Theory In Practice, then setting it on Puree while adding heaping helpings of HUMAN (and following albums)-era Death, Cynic's FOCUS, OBSCURA-era Gorguts, and TESTIMONY OF THE ANCIENTS-era Pestilence and you're on approximately the right track. Or, if you happen to be a fan of Behold...The Arctopus, essentially add the aforementioned quickly-alternating vocal styles to their music and you've got the right idea. Simply put, the album is technically astounding and sonically simultaneously devastating and beautiful.
Like Lerner's main band, Direwolf is not something everyone will be able to get into. It is an exceedingly complex and challenging listen that not only suggests but practically demands from even the most dedicated prog-head multiple play-throughs to take it all in. For those who can and willingly choose to warp their minds enough to wrap their heads around this dizzying and dazzling display of barely-contained chaotic virtuosity, it is an album that is absolutely not to be missed.