Round Table Review
Tracklist: Dawn (2:30), Sarah (4:31), New Best Friends (6:14), Tight Rope (4:59), Carousel (07:51), Trust (2:52), Pantomine (5:07), Red Canvas (2:11), Dusk (2:00), Tied With Sin (6:06), The Final Redemption (7:20)
Firstly, a note of advice: don’t let the fact that this Swedish band have death metal origins, or record for a label better known for more ‘extreme’ acts such as Napalm Death and Morbid Angel, put you off investigating this album: dark it most certainly is, but this is powerful, melodic and emotional music that puts the band right up with the best in the progressive metal genre.
There is no denying that the most direct comparison you can make between Wolverine’s sound and that of another band is with fellow Swedes Pain of Salvation, and in particular their latest album, Remedy Lane. Its not that the music is overly similar (although there are passages where PoS’ influence is clear), more the general mood and atmosphere produced, and the mechanism used to create these. Another influence I hear is latter-day Anathema, particularly around the time of their Alternative 4 album.
Lyrically, we’re in bleak territory here, a concept album telling the tale of an abused woman and her battle to remember what exactly has happened to her. Musically, the tone is set early on in opening track Dawn with its clanking industrial sounds, symphonic keyboards and heavily processed vocals, and the foreboding atmosphere is cranked up from here-on in.
However, this shouldn’t give the impression that melody, variety and strong songwriting don’t get a look-in. Despite the fact that many of the tracks are mid-paced (often held together with a military style drum-track) and stylistically somewhat similar, most of the songs can be seen as separate entities and hold up well when listened to outside of the concept – helped particularly by the band’s ear for a strong, memorable chorus (in particular, check out the powerful Carousel and the grand finale Final Redemption with its massed, choir-like backing vocals).
Although a track-by-track listing seems somewhat superfluous, a description of first song proper, Sarah, serves as a good indication of what’s contained within. The introduction, with its sparse use of notes and insidious little keyboard motive, coupled with double-tracked vocals, give something of a sinister nursery rhyme feel, before a thick, chiming wave of guitars enter the fray for a few seconds, abruptly cutting back and allowing the song to build excellently to a powerful, emotive chorus, with Stefan Zell’s voice soaring above the dense backing. This is one of the few songs where what could be described as a ‘death metal growl’ is used, but only as a backing tool, and it works in this context. The skilful use of an acoustic guitar interlude helps to keep the song interesting and varied, and the seemless flow into the next track (New Best Friend) is impressively handled.
Although these powerful songs make up the lion’s share of the album, Wolverine cleverly place some very different tracks at key intervals along the way – Tightrope is industrial electronica and has a somewhat hypnotic, claustrophobic feel, helped by the sounds of static on a radio as someone tries in vain to pick up a signal; Red Canvas is essentially a tour of drummer Marcus Ledbjer‘s kit, but is far from an exercise in indulgence, especially when combined with some typically sparse and haunting keyboard lines, whilst Trust is a melancholy ballad with some great piano and a particularly heartrending vocal performance from Zell.
Musicianship and production are top-notch throughout. Generally the musicians serve the songs and don’t go in for long solo instrumental breaks – although there is room for a few well-placed guitar solo’s, which reminded me a little of the sort of thing Dave Gilmour might have come up with (circa Animals/The Wall). The vocals of Stefan Zell, meanwhile, are impressive throughout – this kind of material requires a strong, varied lead vocal to both tell the story effectively and to steer the songs where necessary, and he more than passes muster here – in particular check out the a cappella performance on Final Redemption to hear the power and emotion he can convey.
Overall, an excellent album which impresses more and more with each listen, with new elements of the sound coming to the fore (very much a ‘headphones’ album in this respect). On this evidence, Pain Of Salvation have some real competition on their hands …
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Their website shows the group labelling themselves as a “Swedish Metal band” but Wolverine are much more than this. Cold Light Of Monday should catapult them into the higher echelons of the ever-burgeoning Prog Metal genre but, in fact, it is much more melodic and progressive than even that tag would imply.
Cold Light … is of the same calibre as recent works by Pain Of Salvation and Opeth and should see them joining those bands in challenging Dream Theater and Fate’s Warning for genre supremacy. There seems to have been a growing trend for Death/Doom metal bands to shift their style to a more melodic and/or progressive approach, particularly in the jettisoning of harsh or growling vocals in favour of a more ear-friendly “clean” style.
It is this factor that has seen bands like Anathema, Green Carnation, In The Woods and Opeth embraced by the prog community. (If you are unfamiliar with any of these bands, I recommend you give them a try), whilst others whose music should be equally appealing fail to gain much ground as they cling to the use of gravely/grunting vocals. (Bal Sagoth, Maudlin Of The Well and Borknagar are all bands that stretch the boundaries of the metal genre in surprising and exciting ways, if you can get past the shrieking.) Wolverine credit drummer Marcus Lesbjer with growls, but these are very sparsely employed, being relegated only to backing on one track, and even then, are buried low in the mix.
The rest of the vocals are clean and are remarkably assured. Stefan Zell’s voice is well controlled and displays considerable power when the material calls for it. The music is a powerful blend of hard rock, melodic metal and progressive flourishes (orchestral keyboards, jazz-inflected passages and complex structures), which employs light and shade, power and restraint to weave its subtle magic. Keyboards and guitars (electric and acoustic) provide the main melodic focus, but the drummer is also very inventive, a touch jazzy here, hard as nails there, providing the perfect backdrop for the superb, emotive vocals.
This is a concept album, unfolding a gritty, realistic saga of an abused young woman, and is quite harrowing in places. Although the subject matter is dark, and the prevailing atmosphere is sombre, this is not a depressing piece of work. As the title (The Final Redemption) of the closing track implies, there is hope of deliverance and recovery from even the deepest pits of despair.
As is the case with many concept albums, it is hard to pick out highlights (and indeed it is best to experience this as a complete work), especially as this disc delivers the goods right from the moody, mellotron-tinged opener, reminiscent of Opeth’s Damnation CD, right through to the powerful closing number, with its compelling vocal repetition. As well as having traces of Anathema, Pain Of Salvation and Opeth, I also detected flashes of Rush, Saga (in some of the more melodic vocals) and - in the overall structure of the concept- Marillion’s Brave.
If pressed, I would say that stand out cuts include:
- Carousel, which is an impressive slab of hard rock, with crunching riffs, whilst also being very melodic;
- Trust, which is a short piano ballad, with electronic percussion and orchestral swells, and some nice guitar; and
- Tied with Sin, which has a vaguely Landberk’ ish feel and a particularly attractive and dreamy melody. I love the guitar work on this one.
There, now, you see, I’m finding it difficult to stop listing tracks, and before you know it I will have mentioned them all.
I’m simply going to conclude now by saying that this should be considered an essential purchase for all prog metal fans, and will probably finish a close second to Opeth’s magical Damnation album as my Prog Metal album of the year.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Other than a few Mp3 samples, I've never listened to Wolverine before - so I can freely admit to listening to this album with no preconceptions or expectations whatsoever.
What I do know is that their last album, The Window Purpose, on DVS Records got a very favourable press and shifted a fair few copies. Having caught the ear and eye of Elitist Records - an arm of the well-established UK-based Earache label - the Swedes duly signed a four-album deal, of which this is the first release.
Cold Light Of Monday has all the right ingredients to whet my appetite. An adventurous progressive metal album that boasts plenty of lighter moments and a good dose of melody. Lyrically and atmospherically rich, this is concept album in the classic mould. It takes the story of a young abused woman as she drags herself through several dark years of a dark life.
The stark opening track Dawn sets the scene brilliantly as the sounds of humming radiators, the evening traffic and plaintive thoughts, create the cold image of the woman curled up on a cold floor - her arms around her battered, bleeding body. The scene-setting builds through the second track, that itself builds into a quite rousing finale. Here, not for the only time, the riff and phrasing owes more than a passing influence to Pain of Salvation's equally stark Remedy Lane.
Perfection is attained by the third track. New Best Friends is a superb slice of progressive rock. A real bluesy, soulful song topped off with some perfectly placed contributions from the whole band. The guitar work - especially that bluesy guitar solo - is brilliant.
Sadly though, from here on it's more hit than miss. Tightrope is a mix of drum and keys repeating the same refrain for almost two minutes, followed by a radio being tuned over wind chimes and cello for another three minutes. Far too drawn out an idea.
Carousel belatedly gets back on target with bursts of heavy chugging guitars interspersed with a more neo-prog reflectiveness and a great hook. Again Pain of Salvation springs to mind especially at around four minutes where there's an off-beat guitar run lifted from Remedy Lane. Sadly the head of steam Carousel builds up is again lost by Trust - a fairly predictable piano vocal ballad, kept afloat by Stefan Zell's vocals.
Sorry to mention it again but Remedy Lane is the template for the off-beat opening and closing of Pantomime, in between which the track fails to really develop. And again the flow is brought to an emergency stop by an experimental but pointless drum track that is Red Canvas . I guess artistically this is meant to represent one of Sarah's beatings. If so, and I hate to sound like an art critic but drum-equals-beating is a bit on the obvious side! And as the whole album makes that point anyway, is it necessary?
Dusk opens again with promise from some manic vocals which threaten to build into something interesting, but just stops. Tied With Sin builds on some earlier themes but ends up being too formulaic while The Final Redemption plods rather than gallops to the album's climax.
Maybe the band is concentrating too much on the story and not enough on the music. Maybe the idea was to strip down the music in the same way as the subject strips down her thoughts. Whatever, for me there just isn't enough musical substance to hold the attention. No matter how hard I try to like this album it just doesn't grab me for more than a couple of songs.
Also you can't help but notice that the production is almost modern rock, taking the same direction as the story - cold and sterile - the minimalist approach fits the theme but may not work for the more traditional ProgMetal listener. It could however be a good move if the band wants to broaden its base - there's certainly plenty here that would interest fans of say Opeth and Anathema.
Overall, I guess this is the sort of album that will generate many different reactions. Some will love it - others won't. But at least it will generate a reaction, which has to be good. And sure, in some parts Cold Light of Monday is a triumph. New Best Friends alone is one of the best four minutes of music I've heard all year. And what is certain, is that Wolverine has produced an album that is brave, unique and adventurous in almost every aspect. For that they deserve respect. But for the greater part, for me it just lacks that spark, variety, power, inspiration that separates the great, progressive concept albums from the simply good.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The band name still sounds a bit unusual in the world of symphonic rock; Wolverine. But as this album is their third release already (Fervent Dream and The Window Purpose being the previous ones) I’m getting used to it.
I was curious to hear how the band evolved in the last couple of years. They opened up the ProgPower festival, the last edition of it in Tilburg’s 013, and made a huge impression there and then. I haven’t managed to see the band live since that first time, unfortunately, which will hopefully change soon. This new album gives me a good reason to see the band again, it is a piece of work that has a very unique identity and atmosphere. How they will transfer that feeling onto stage must be very exciting for the band. The album is complex, tells a story of abuse and holds a very melancholic feel.
Songs that stand out are Pantomine and Trust, where singer Stefan Zell really sings magnificently. His voice is a beautiful contrast with the dark atmosphere of the album. Dusk for instance is a great intro for the closing section of the album (Tied with Sin and The Final Redemption). The guitar work in Pantomine is brilliant, the use of drums in Red Canvas is very original and actually the whole album has good performances. No highly skilled twiddly-diddly Prog Metal like for instance Dream Theater. This is Melodic Prog with more emphasis on the emotional and atmospheric aspects, which I must say that I tend to like that a bit more. Wolverine is a band of first class musicians too, let there be no misunderstanding about that, but sometimes less is more, if you know what I mean. One remark I must make; I think that they could do without the grunt vocals. Anyway; albums like this need time and attention to discover the full beauty which to me is a challenge. And that to me is Progressive Music…
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Annoying, too long, boring that's what I would say of the end piece of the track Tight Rope. A radio not set to a correct frequency, cello sounds, voices... It is not too bad but if it lasts 3 minutes it's just too much. Having said that I hope no one will accuse me of writing a too biased a review, because that's the only 3 minutes on the album that I don't like.
This album is an absolute masterpiece, a magnus opus, a concept album that for me ranks somewhere around Marillion's Brave and Anathema's Judgement. Two of my favourite albums. I was grabbed by the mood of this album but beware, if you are in a dark mood this album will not cheer you up. The story of Sarah, an abused, beat up woman, alone in a room, wondering how it all came to be like this. The photographs in the CD booklet show a woman with a strange unreal smile. A woman in the gutter. Or on the way to the hospital.
From the first tones of Dawn I was grabbed: a strange sound of some engine (?) running, someone singing through the phone that fades into keyboard, after which the vocals come back (not through the phone this time). The emotions conveyed through the vocals are in a class in its own. Sarah appears to start off a bit too cheesy but after a minute the first guitar tones of the album blast through your speaker (well, I have my volume slide way up). This guitar loop is a bit strange, it is like it misses the glue to fit together. The next time the loop returns Stefan Zell starts singing the chorus to the song and then all falls into place. The heavier guitars fade into the next song New Best Friends and the lyrics and the way they are sung fit together. The chorus to this song is one of the heavier pieces of this album and Stefan takes his vocals to a high pitch. I very much like some of the higher pitched guitar fills that also go with the chorus.
I have already mentioned Tight Rope, the first part actually is very good, the next part is not even a song, it is the kind of fill you find in a lot of concept album but in my opinion this is just way over the top. But when it's over Carousel picks up the high standard of the rest of the album. I really like the composition of this longest track on this album it has a number of tempo changes and different melodies but by returning to parts already used it is a very coherent song.
Trust starts of as a vocals/piano only ballad, to which later on some drums (from a drum computer) and keyboards are added. I normally do not like drum computers (especially when a band has a good drummer of their own) but this adds to the mood of the song. Pantomine picks up the original tempo, I will not repeat my fondness of guitar solos, but well, this track has one of the kind I like. The keyboard solo somewhere in the first part is also worth mentioning. The vocals after that are very simular to Magnum's Bob Catley. Red Canvas starts of as a percussion showcase fortunately it is not an outrageous action-packed drum solo.
The beginning of Dusk sets a dark atmosphere of keyboards and low pitched vocals, half way a guitar loop speeds it up, after which an almost cacaphony of sounds exist. On Tied With Sin the first part sounds like it is played on the radio. It is like an intro to the next part, that repeats the first part. Metal guitars accompany the chorus and there is another super guitar solo, so this also is one of the better tracks. The last track is a worthy finale to this album, the first part is on the heavy side, the lyrics wrap up the story, and once the last tones of this track fade, you know you will be wanting more of this album - unfortunately after 51:46 you are left on your own again.
I have been constantly trying to analyse why I like this album so much. There are a number of things that do not speak in it's favour: the theme is somewhat familiar to Marillion's Brave, so maybe not too original; also the mood of the album reminds of Brave; the build-up of the complete album reminds me of Anathema's Judgement; there are a number of heavier parts but overall this does not qualify as a progmetal album (I say this not to label it but to explain what my taste is generally like). But what is really true is that for the past few weeks, once the final track had finished, I had no problem giving it another spin, and I have decided that this album should have a prominent position in my collection.
It might be the mood of the album, the throat grabbing story, the small experiments with the sound, the well-dosed heavier parts, the guitar solos that can be found throughout the complete album, the vocals and the emotional pleads that sound throughout the album, the keyboard assisting in building up the mood. I think if you like either of the albums I have mentioned you will also like this one. Wolverine has laid down a masterpiece !
Conclusion: 9 out of 10