Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wolfsbane Save The World

Album Review by Alex Eruptor

Back in the late 1980s, Tamworth terrors ‘The Mighty’ Wolfsbane scored a major record deal with Rick Rubin’s Def American label and in 1989, 1990, and 1991 released a string of stunning albums which meshed commercial hard rock, outrageous heavy metal and streetwise punk rock.  

Debut ‘Live Fast, Die Fast!’ contained tremendous songs and showcased the flashy guitar playing of teenage whizzkid Jase ‘The Ace’ Edwards and the future voice of Iron Maiden, Blaze Bayley.  It was, and still is, a great album.  Unfortunately though, Rubin substituted the fiery organic ‘live’ sound that the band had built their reputation on, and opted instead to remove most of the bass frequencies and to go with a drum sound that brought to mind ‘Made in Japan’ (and no, not in reference to the Deep Purple live album!) although over time this ‘dry’ mix has become part of its primitive charm.  Despite the support of the national music press and BBC Radio 1, Rubin’s label spectacularly failed to secure decent distribution or otherwise capitalise on the ‘buzz’ that had been generated: You might hear lead single ‘I Like It Hot’ on drive-time radio as well as on the dedicated rock shows, but you sure as hell couldn’t find it in the shops.

Lessons were learned and when Wolfsbane landed the ‘special guest’ spot on Iron Maiden’s tour at the end of 1990, future Pearl Jam producer Brendon O’Brien was brought in to handle the production of the awesome six track ‘All Hell Is breaking Loose...’ mini album released to coincide.  O’Brien also produced the follow-up ‘Down Fall The Good Guys’, but again, despite containing two singles ‘Ezy’ and ‘After Midnight’ that should have set the charts alight, mainstream success evaded Wolfsbane, who toured relentlessly around the UK and Europe gaining rave live reviews but never quite moving to the mega star status which their talent and work ethic deserved.

By the following year, Wolfsbane were temporarily without a record deal before signing to the Bronze label and demoing new material along the lines of the harder and heavier stuff in their back catalogue, which could stand up to the burgeoning new wave of alternative influenced rock.  A live album ‘Massive Noize Injection’ was their released first however and promised to capture the intense live experience which previous studio recordings had managed to gloss-over: It was a warts-and-all triumph.  

An eponymously titled studio album emerged shortly afterwards and it contained some brilliant music, perhaps their best, but alas, Blaze Bayley had already accepted an invitation to replace Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden and the band split up. 

After a few years in the wilderness Blaze, Jase, Jeff and Steve Danger got together for a few reunion shows, followed by a couple of tours opening for The Wildhearts and The Quireboys and most recently their own headline campaigns of the UK.  As well as remastering and reissuing their back-catalogue, Wolfsbane have recorded and released a new studio album entitled ‘Wolfsbane Save The World’ comprising eleven scorching tracks of melodious, hard riffing, and totally uplifting rock.

Kicking off with a biker anthem in ‘Blue Sky’, then two fiery rockers in ‘Teacher’ and ‘Buy My Pain’, it is clear from these opening numbers that all of the Wolfsbane ingredients are present and correct: Big choruses, great harmonies, and a larger-than-life sound which captures the ‘up and at em’ spirit which makes the live shows so great.  The overall vibe of the album is at times reminiscent of how the bands’ early, pre-‘live fast die fast’ demo tapes sounded, before the influence of the record companies.  At other times though you can hear where Wolfsbane have evolved to, the heavy riffing and intensity of the ‘white album’ that they signed-off with in the early 1990’s.  

Whether it quite reaches the dizzying heights of ‘All Hell Is Breaking Loose...’ is a matter of debate, but make no mistake: If you dig their previous work then you ought to own this album because it sounds exactly like pure, unadulterated Wolfsbane.  Naturally then, you will love this! To my ears, the two songs on offer here that are indeed most likely to save the world are the storming final track ‘Did It For The Money’, and the defiant ‘Smoke and Red Light’. The latter I played six times in a row when I first heard it, which by my reckoning is about equal to when teenage me first taped ‘I Like It Hot’ off the radio in 1990.  

It is damn good to have Wolfsbane back and such is my enthusiasm that it was pretty much a given that I’d be very excited and write a favourable review for their comeback album. But even when heard objectively, this is a fine slab of rock from start to finish, and now, more than ever, we need Wolfsbane to save the world.   

Alex Eruptor

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