Released: 2009, Massacre Records
Reviewer: Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
They say that there are Europeans out there who can make amazingly awesome, epic metal who aren’t Scandinavians. But are they right? In this case, “they” happen to be Massacre Records, a small German label doing their utmost to win a little metal glory away from their Viking cousins up north. Their offering is a dark pagan metal band called Wolfchant, a standard five-piece featuring suitably laughable pseudonyms such as ‘Derrmorh’ and ‘Bahznar.’ Since I like my epic pagan metal with just a whiff of cheese, I had a little laugh and threw in the disc without any idea or expectations of what I would find therein.
Sidenote - while it is ultimately meaningless to the underlying music, I can’t help but mention the cover art for DETERMINED DAMNATION. Not only is it hideously ugly, but it appears to rip off both King Diamond’s THEM and Metallica’s MASTER OF PUPPETS , two peerless metal classics. Call me nitpicky, but it left a bad taste in my mouth before I heard a single note of Wolfchant.
DETERMINED DAMNATION opens with an intriguing, melodiously folksy intro track that suddenly truncates itself from possible epic opener goodness into a dull keyboard flourish, followed by an unexpected silence where I expected swelling guitars and thunderous drums. Then the zippy opener “World in Ice” kicks in gloriously with a strong riff and maniacal drumming, in what is likely the best track on the album. It’s epic, catchy (particularly the chorus,) technical enough to sound cool without being pretentiously wanking, and features numerous changes in both melodic and rhythmic feel to keep my interest throughout. Sadly, the end of this track also marks the end of my interest in Wolfchant and their pretentious schtick.
After “World in Ice” ends, there really isn’t another track on the album that matches up to it. There are several riffs of superior maturity and complexity scattered about, but they often lack a well-written song to stand alongside it. Follow-up track “Until the End” is a mixed bag, starting off with a lackluster chorus that surprisingly launches into a marvelously catchy guitar hook. After a decent verse, that ho-hum chorus came back followed by a cheesy artificial drum-machine clap-along bridge. As I came to learn, Wolfchant’s music is consistently inconsistent in its ability to engage the listener. Next up is the title track, which was reasonably entertaining without having too many faults. The follow-up “In War” marks a return to the musical intrigue and dynamics found on “World in Ice,” featuring memorable riffs throughout and a beautifully mellow outro, but (again with the inconsistency!) a mediocre chorus.
I can’t entirely fault Wolfchant’s inconsistent songwriting for my less-than-glowing review – there are several grievances I have with the vocals, and especially their overzealous attempts to create a spectacularly epic sound with bloated & annoying choruses. First of all, the vocals - vocalist ‘Lokhi’ has a phlegmy constrained rasp reminiscent of Katla’s shrieking on Finntroll’s debut “Midnattens Widunder,” but substantially less awesome. If one could take the sound of an asthmatic dog and combine it with Andy Serkis’ Gollum, you would have an idea of what Mr. Lokhi’s metal voice is like. However, DETERMINED DAMNATION also features numerous cleanly sung chorus parts, which by themselves sound pretty good. The problem is, these passages don’t fit in AT ALL with the blackened dark metal vibe that Wolfchant is so desperately trying to pull off. Mr. Lokhi’s clean voice is quite good, but it clashes forcefully with his scream (often layered atop melodic choirs) and whatever cheesy keyboard riff that happens to be weakly driving the chorus along. Listen to the icky pre-choruses on “Fate of the Fighting Man” for a prime example. I should also mention “Never Too Drunk,” which is without a doubt, the most repetitively dull and just plain AWFUL metal drinking song I’ve ever heard.
From the get-go, I really wanted to like Wolfchant and their new album. They advertise themselves as “epic extreme metal from Bavaria,” with (according to the very generous promo) “timeless melodies,” “choral singing,” and best of all, “epic parts!” With such lavish descriptors, how could I not want to love such a band? However, the substance backing all those pretty words is lackluster at best and flimsy at worst. But there’s hope ahead - “World in Ice” and “In War” demonstrate what Wolfchant could be capable of with more consistent songwriting and perhaps the guiding hand of a competent producer. DETERMINED DAMNATION is meant for pre-existing fans of the band and other truly forgiving individuals who have an irrational love of wanna-be epic pagan metal. Others, stay away.