Album Reviews

Issue 2006-040: Wolverine - Still - Round Table Review

Round Table Review

Wolverine - Still

Wolverine - Still

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Tracklist: A House Of Plague (6:52), Bleeding (5:21), Taste Of Sand (6:02), Nothing More (4:11), Sleepy Town (4:13), Liar On The Mount (5:43), Hiding (4:14), This Cold Heart Of Mine (7:52), And She Slowly Dies (7:40)

Andy Read's Review

An absolute gem of an album - breathtakingly brilliant from beginning to end. There you are - that's all you need to know. Go out and buy your own copy.

Oh, you're still here? Okay, I'll spend a few moments justifying what I've just said - but only if you agree to go out and buy it when I've finished! Now we've got that agreed, let's begin.....

My love affair with this Swedish quintet took a little while to develop. I'd heard their first two albums and been rather unmoved, and their last release Cold Light Of Monday was a disappointment. A handful of brilliance, sitting amongst an awful lot of padding.  But then I caught the band's mesmerising set at last year's Progpower Europe festival and my love blossomed. I went back and listened with fresh ears to The Window Purpose with its raw edge and its clean and death vocals and it's been a regular on my CD player ever since. Even The Window Purpose now has less padding.

So the delay in getting Still into the shops, while the band shopped around for a record deal was a tad frustrating. Thankfully my advance order at my local record store ensured my own copy arrived before the review copy.

As I hopefully alluded to at the start - this is the place where Wolverine finally realise their potential. The genuine article, the real McCoy - this is progressive-tinged rock as it is meant to be played. Again it wasn't love at first sight. It took half a dozen or so listens to really gel, but sometimes you know that certain albums are worth a bit of patience. On the seventh or eighth listen everything clicked into place, and I haven't been able to stop playing this album since.

It's got a rough edge to it and a heaviness in parts, but it's not what I'd term metal. It's certainly not as heavy as The Window Purpose - the guitar riffing is minimal and there's no death vocals either. But neither is it as light as Cold Light.... A couple of the tracks are acoustic, four have a meatier vibe and the others drift seamlessly between the two.

In a strange way there's no individual track that really stands out either. It's very much an album that has to be taken as a sum of its parts. The dynamics, the flow, the passion and the rhythm of the piece is spellbinding.  In the same way, the joy of each listen is in the small details that jump out from each track. The delicate time changes that grab you for a few beats and them return to normal; the small guitar patterns than run out as quickly as they run in; the fine-tuned harmonies that always come from a different angle, and the varying densities of sound that give the album a life of it's own. Absolutely gorgeous.

Stefan Zell's voice is what gives the band an immediate identity and he really sounds so assured on this record. He mixes his higher and lower ranges to maximum effect, and the use of harmonies is obscenely good.

This album is hard to pigeonhole but should appeal to anyone who likes the softer end of prog metal or the harder end of progressive rock. Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Pain Of Salvation and Sieges Even would leave a similar musical imprint.

So there we are. That's my justification. Below is my mark out of ten. So why are you still here?

Martien Koolen's Review

Swedish progressive, melodic Wolverine has always been a secret favourite band of mine, as their albums always are a true surprise. Still is the long awaited follow-up to one of my favourite prog rock albums ever Cold Light Of Monday. But after listening to Still for a couple of times I can truly say that Wolverine has made a masterpiece again and I think that it is even better than Cold Light. It is heavier, but there is a lot of emotion on this album as it also is powerful, melodic and the songs grab you by the throat right from the start.

Still features an almost perfect opening song called A House Of Plague, which starts with a breathtaking musical intro, combining the best of Pain Of Salvation and Ayreon. The song is pretty complex with lots of rhythm changes, ballad-like musical parts, metal riffs and a smashing harmonious guitar solo. The second masterpiece is called Liar On The Mount which contains some rather interesting Bush quotes, powerful metal guitar riffs, two noteworthy guitar solos and also a rather quiet musical passage. This song actually made me think of Chris Caffery’s first solo album.

This Cold Heart Of Mine is a rather bombastic song filled with lots of guitar melodies and piano parts, reminding me of another rather underestimated rock band called Dynamic Lights. And She Slowly Dies is a typical Wolverine song, mysterious, dark, and dreamy, with an almost Anathema-like melody and again a rather sheer brilliant guitar solo.

I could only spot one rather weak song on the album, namely the simple acoustic song Hiding, which only consists of piano, acoustic guitar and vocals. But the rest of the new material on this album is rather excellent prog metal stuff with very passionate vocals and extremely wonderful melodies. If you like POS then you have to buy this album; I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Dries Dokter's Review

Almost nervous, I open the box to get the CD out, waiting for the tray to slide in, volume slowly up (to avoid surprises) keeping my breath in and... it is a hit!

It is with only a couple of bands that I wait in anticipation of what is to come: they used to be Marillion and Fish but nowadays it's Green Carnation, Pain Of Salvation, Riverside and Wolverine. I have been waiting for this new album from the moment it was announced. Luckily I did get some information up front, as at ProgPower 2005 Wolverine played two of the tracks from this new album.

Wolverine is one or those underrated bands that deserves more than life in the margin. Their three previous albums were received with much acclaim and what is more important: over the past few years they have amassed a growing and faithful following. One of the reasons for that is their superb live performance. Where other bands go out of their way with their looks and clothes to show they are real heavy dudes, the guys from Wolverine just show up in a shirt and jeans to let their music speak for itself.

Starting of as a Death Metal band with grunts and all, Wolverine has changed into a band with a very distinct and unique sound (be advised: they've dropped the grunts). Being at the pinnacle of prog metal Wolverine understand perfectly how to mix heavy with quiet, progressive with metal. This new offering is no different in that respect although this time more "quiet" went into the mix. Many of the tracks on this album should appeal not only to prog metal fans but also the more adventurous "general" progressive rock fan. The diversity of tracks on this album: some mellow, some firm, some guitar oriented, some keyboards or even vocal oriented, it is all there. The build up within the tracks themselves are also noteworthy from mellow and slow to energetic and powerful, building up from chorus to refrain, cooling down to slow again. All of that shows Wolverine know how to satisfy a progressive metal/rock audience.

The extraordinary gift of Stefan Zell's voice is an important asset for Wolverine. Stefan is able to make everything that he sings sound real. It is not only the correct words and the correct pitch and tune: it is also the mood that goes with the lyrics that is conveyed. The line "Save us all your smiles, save us all your words", from A House Of Plague, makes it clear they are really fed up with it: "and hand to us the truth" the only thing they are interested in. Throughout the album there are a number of examples of this: "If I could change you, If I could...", lyrics from And She Slowly Dies makes very clear he really wish he could. The dissatisfaction about the Bush administration seeps out of every line in Liar On The Mount. This storytelling power is very much supported by the music and it is what makes their live performance such an intense experience.

A House Of Plague (much in the vein of His Cold Touch), Bleeding, Liar On The Mount, This Cold Heart Of Mine and And She Slowly Dies are tracks that much deserve the prog metal predicate. These tracks clearly point back to the album The Window Purpose. While the tracks Taste Of Sand, Nothing More (brilliant rhythm section), Sleepy Town and Hiding, are rich progressive tracks not unlike some on the previous album, Cold Light Of Monday. These progressive tracks might come as a (negative) surprise for people expecting the pure progressive metal Wolverine style, but in fact they make this album much richer and because of those tracks the album is really something special.

Although I really liked the cover of Cold Light Of Monday I did hear some complaints: the cover did not really boost the album sales. It was not recognizable as belonging to a prog metal band called Wolverine. The cover did fit the story of the album perfectly but of course people browsing the displays at an record store looking for a new discovery were not familiar with that fact. The cover to this new album will appeal to those people more I think. Hopefully it is a reason for some of them to take notice and take home this album.

After living with this album for couple of weeks I now know : it is not only a hit but more important: it is also a keeper! It is a very worthy successor to Cold Light Of Monday, that I will keep playing in the future. Wolverine's following can only grow because of this album. It certainly confirms what I already knew: this great band is able to release a great album!

Tom De Val's Review

Wolverine made quite an impact with their last offering Cold Light Of Monday; a dark concept album somewhat in the vein of Anathema and Pain of Salvation, and it made an immediate impact on me. I must admit however that future listenings have exposed a few flaws that have made me think that, in hindsight, perhaps I had rated it too highly; therefore I was prepared to be highly critical of this long-awaited (mostly due to label shenanigans) new effort…

However, I must admit that I was in Still’s grip from the majestic opening notes of A House Of Plague through to the fade out of And She Slowly Dies. A real tour-de-force of emotional, atmospheric progressive metal, the band have conjured up some of their strongest material to date. The aforementioned A House Of Plague is a perfect opener, a mid-paced rocker which sets the tone for the remainder of the album; holding back a little during the verses, before gradually increasing in tension before a huge roller-coaster of a chorus comes crashing in, it’s an immediate highlight, and even incorporates something of a latter-day Paradise Lost feel within some of the solo guitar work. Taste Of Sand brings the tempo down a little and shows how adept the band have become at this kind of mournful balladeering, with Stefan Zell’s vocals oozing emotion and regret. Sleepy Town sees the integration of a more modern, vaguely electronica-type feel, on previous albums used more as an instrumental interlude but here incorporated in to a proper song, whilst Liar On The Mount shows the band at their most aggressive, with some searing guitar work accompanying the biting lyrics (although I’m not sure that the (overused) samples of George W Bush really add anything to the track – except to ram home the lyric’s point!). The album ends strongly with the atmospheric And She Slowly Dies, which achieves the desired effect of getting the listener to start the CD all over again…

To be honest this is such a strong set of songs that it is difficult for me to come up with any overly critical comments, despite my original intention! You could perhaps argue that the tempo is rather samey, but the converse of this is that the album has a very good flow to it, better perhaps than Cold Light Of Monday, where some of the instrumental interludes did perhaps disrupt the overall feel of the album. Still also further illustrates how Wolverine have developed their own distinctive sound – yes, the likes of Anathema are still an obvious influence, but it isn’t as overriding as perhaps it was previously. Finally a brief mention of the cover art – I’ve seen some criticism of this, but I must admit I think it works very well – minimalist but effective.

Overall then, Wolverine continue to improve and have delivered their best album yet – with a deal with Candlelight in place, lets hope their progress from now-on is unhindered by distractions and that the band can finally build up some real momentum to become the kind of leading lights of the prog metal scene that they deserve to be.


ANDY READ - 10 out of 10
MARTIEN KOOLEN - 9 out of 10
DRIES DOKTER - 8.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL - 9 out of 10

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