Britain’s Wolf People may as well be called Earth People. The four-man psych/prog/folk rockers have created a musical beast that is grizzled, primitive and speaks of a utopia where nature reclaims the land around us. The title of their latest album, Ruins, refers to the ruins of civilization, according to singer/guitarist Jack Sharp. “We’re constantly veering towards complete frustration with the human race one moment,” he says, “and celebrating all the positive things about humanity the next.”
The trick is to do this without sounding trite or preachy, and on Ruins, they largely succeed. One of the keys to getting back to nature with a minimum of self-conscious navel-gazing is to look to the influence of rock’s heavier, earlier bands. To that end, Ruins works spectacularly. It may be 2016, but this album has a sound and feel straight out of the early ‘70s. There are hints of Led Zeppelin, snatches of Black Sabbath and huge chunks of Jethro Tull crammed into the mix, but it never really sounds derivative. The band’s youthful exuberance taps into the power of proto-folk metal while simultaneously keeping everything fresh and original.
Opening track “Ninth Night” is an accurate doorway into the sounds and words of Ruins, as stately, minor-key acoustic guitar reminiscent of Rush’s more pastoral moments collapses into a fuzzy, chugging mid-tempo beat and Sharp’s distorted vocals set the scene: “Let those who rest more deeply sleep / Let those awake their vigils keep / Oh hand of glory shed thy light / Direct us to our spoils tonight.” Not exactly party anthems here, and while this kind of atmosphere can lead to pretentious Spinal Tap moments in lesser hands, Wolf People have the chops and the insight to make it all fall together with grace, muscle and aplomb.
There are times when the retro-bluesy vibe descends into noisy chaos, like on the bruising “Night Witch”, but it’s tempered with an even-handed loud/soft dynamic. Freewheeling electric guitar riffs soar, but are lightened with almost folk-like verses. The chilling “Crumbling Dais” gives the retro-loving band plenty to chew on as the song’s opening 25 seconds are a mini-overture fueled either by a dusty mellotron or actual flutes (hard to tell—I like to think it’s the former. Mellotrons aren’t making the comeback I’d like them to).
In keeping with concept album tropes, there are even three different versions of a song: “Kingfisher”, “Kingfisher Reprise” and “Kingfisher Reprise II”. The two “sequels” are essentially instrumental recaps and are great examples of Wolf People—a band that also includes guitarist Joe Hollick, bassist Dan Davies and drummer Tom Watt—taking a potent musical concept and threading it through the album. As on the rest of the album, these three tracks marry woodsy electric blues with a strong, almost funky backbeat. It’s a combination that sets the band apart from nearly all of their peers.
Ruins is too pastoral for metal. Too prog for indie rock. Too punk for folk and too jammy for punk. In a word: uncategorizable. Most of the best—and unfortunately, underrated—music of today bears that label. Wolf People is a band that’s both ahead of its time and constantly mining the past for inspiration. Ruins is both a rallying cry for a return to nature and a reminder that the meat-and-potatoes basics of rock and roll shouldn’t be dismissed in favor of passing fads.
// Notes from the Road
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