Reviewed: June 2022
Released: 2022, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Kira Levine
Swedish heavy metal act Wolf formed in 1995 and Niklas Stålvind is the only original member who still plays in the band today. For their ninth long-player Shadowland, the founding frontman is joined by bassist Pontus Egberg (King Diamond, HammerFall, ex-Lion’s Share), drummer Johan Koleberg (ex-Therion, ex-Lion’s Share) and guitarist Simon Johansson (Soilwork), the same lineup featured on 2020’s Feed The Machine.
“Dust” is a gripping opener. Koleberg delivers an attention-grabbing drum performance that shares the spotlight with the riffs, courtesy of Stålvind and Johansson. Majestic melodies and captivating vocals make this catchy yet unpredictable song worth the 283 seconds one will spend with it.
Next up, with six minutes of high-octane heavy metal is “Visions for the Blind”, making more of an impact than its eventful predecessor. A little more aggression than displayed earlier, haunting lyrics, and some powerful bass playing from Egberg hint that Wolf are just getting warmed up.
There are quite a few elements in “The Time Machine” that relate to its title. For example, the verse beginning with the line “A rocket launched into the unknown” links back to the theme of travel (while even the music transforms to evoke a sense of nostalgia for around a minute). If this song is ever played live at a Wolf show, questions asked in the chorus and a verse will likely encourage listeners to think more deeply about the meaning behind Shadowland’s third chapter.
A hint of Judas Priest can be heard in shortest song, “Evil Lives”, some ominous drumming by Johan helping to set the sinister scene. A fun little song, full of action and wicked intent. “Seek the Silence” straddles metal and rock effortlessly, while boasting some of the best singing in the first half of Shadowland. Wolf really get the balance right between the heavier and softer parts, letting the words of discontentment in the verses breathe and speak for themselves.
If there is a track that is dance-worthy on this long-player, it has to be the eponymous one. The rhythm section on this one is killer and will likely bring the house down if or when it is performed live. Without giving away too much, “Shadowland” has a run time of just over four-minutes, and being the second-shortest song, it proves length is not a restriction when it comes to expression.
Focusing on the central figure of an English urban legend, “The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake” is dark and hard hitting. This is arguably the band’s best song off of Shadowland, highlighted by the fact it had been chosen as one of three songs from the album released as singles. It is almost impossible to highlight a stand-out moment within its near-six-minute run time. The riffs, low end and lyrics are all on top form. Referencing fictional character Edward Mordrake’s two faces and his tragic end, each enthusiastically sung line amplifies the weird-yet-infectious vibe the music provides. A perfect example of why heavy music is the perfect medium for creepy stories!
Keeping it strange, dramatic number “Rasputin” has the difficult task of succeeding song seven. A delightfully over-the-top vocal performance makes this track, especially the way in which Niklas repeatedly delivers the Russian mystic man’s name. The Theremin performance by guest musician Carl Westholm gives “Rasputin” an added spook factor, weaving into the already eerie guitar sound.
“Exit Sign” and “Into the Black Hole” bear the burden of following several fantastic tracks, paling in comparison to the stellar works earlier in the album. During track nine, Mr. Stålvind demonstrates desperation through pain-stricken vocals and the tenth has an undeniable catchiness to it. Like “Evil Lives”, there are NWOBHM elements in both songs, however these nine minutes feel less uniquely Wolf.
Although listed as a bonus track, “Trial by Fire” has all the grandiosity of an official album closer. Much more memorable than songs nine and ten, it is led by a superb solo before going in another surprising but fitting direction. These final six minutes are not to be missed as they absolutely put Shadowland back on track.
The most exciting release Wolf have put out over the last decade, album number nine showcases the Swedes’ superb musicianship, while still remaining inventive as ever even though they have all been active since the nineties. Shadowland will be a tough act to follow, though the quartet will surely accept the challenge when writing their tenth full-length.