French metal by way of 1982
Some folks just never got over the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. When bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Saxon started releasing albums in the late 1970s, they revitalized a genre—still in its infancy—which had been dominated by the sludgy tones of Black Sabbath, as well as early progenitors like Blue Cheer and (dare I say it) Iron Butterfly. The NWOBHM changed all that. Iron Maiden’s Killers and Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny introduced a new level of technical skill to heavy music, along with singers like Rob Halford and, later, Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio, who could really fricking wail.
What’s interesting is that while heavy metal has moved on, with doom and thrash and death metal splintering into increasingly ludicrous subgenres like “technical death metal” and “Scandinavian Viking folk metal”, there are still plenty of bands out there who clearly wish the clock had stopped around 1983 or so. The sweet spot hit sometime after the release of Dio’s The Last in Line, but before the advent of hair metal became an embarrassment to Metal Nation. Enter Lonewolf, a classic NWOBHM-inspired band hailing from France. From album art to lyrical subject matter to the skronking guitar tones, Lonewolf embodies the spirit of this phase of the music’s evolution. Whether that is a good thing is up to the individual listener, but for metalheads wishing to revisit the past, Lonewolf serves as an effective tour guide.
The band’s sixth album, The Fourth and Final Horseman, presumably refers to the Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; the fourth horseman was death, which leaves the listener wondering which of the band’s previous records served as war, famine and pestilence. Such metaphysical questions will have to wait, though: the riffs are rolling in and it is time to rawk.
Here’s the good news: the band knows how to kick out the jams. The guitars are meaty and the playing is consistently dextrous if not especially surprising, while the rhythm section provides a solid, tsunami-like wall of sound that carries everything along. On tunes like “Hellride”, the double-time drumming pummels the listener into submission, while twin guitar leads shred impressively on “Dragonriders” and “The Brotherhood of Wolves”. Sing-along (or holler-along, more like) choruses pepper some tunes like the sorely dumb “Time for War”, with its jingoistic, rah-rah-we’re-all-warriors-now attitude. It’s all turn-off-your-brain fun and decently performed to boot – unlikely to win any awards for originality, but then if that’s you wanted you probably wouldn’t have made it this far in the review.
Here’s the bad news: the singer can’t really sing. Insurmountable obstacle? You decide.
So the record, then, is a bit of a wash. The strongest tracks here are the frenetic “Hellride”, semi-epic album closer “Destiny” and the moody, midtempo “Guardian Angel”, with its twin-lead guitar attack and sweet solos. Lyrics are a bit dumb all around, but then, the record is called The Fourth and Final Horseman, so who’s expecting poetry? There is a certain formulaic feel to the tracks, as seven of the ten tunes fall in the four-to-five-minute range, but those songs that avoid this, especially eight-minute album closer “Destiny”, feel freer. The band is weakest on those tunes which put the most focus on the vocals, including “The Poison of Mankind” and “Another Star Means Another Death”.
Lonewolf is a band that gets the job done. This record is no breakthrough but it is a solid contribution to a genre already overstuffed with solid contributions. Anyone seeking affirmation that metal is a worldwide phenomenon need look no further than here.
// Notes from the Road
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