Consistency is a woefully underappreciated attribute these days. In our society’s insatiable quest for the next big thing, we blindly chase after the latest, greatest glittering golden prize. But, to borrow a line from “I Choose the Dark” (a bonus track on this very album), all that glitters is not gold. Our thirst for novelty may cause us to take for granted the tried and true, the steady and reliable forces that keep plugging away quietly and consistently at a high level. This sentiment applies to life in general, but it’s also true of music, where we may be tempted to seek out some exciting new Internet-buzz band without paying due respect to the grizzled veterans in the trenches who have been faithfully crafting honest, high-quality heavy metal for many years, without fanfare or accolades. This, at last, brings me to Lonewolf, the French troop whose eighth full-length album, ‘The Heathen Dawn,’ recently saw the light of day on Massacre Records. The pride of Grenoble, Lonewolf have never made a bad record; to the contrary, they have steadily improved their writing and playing skills, honed and refined their sound, and delivered one good-to-excellent album after another, approximately every other year since shortly after the turn of the millenium. Yet they inexplicably continue to fly under the radar of many.
Perhaps ‘The Heathen Dawn’ will finally be the record to alter Lonewolf’s fortunes. Make no mistake: Lonewolf haven’t changed their recipe one iota. Their distinctly Germanic brand of stouthearted true metal still owes a huge inspirational debt of gratitude to Running Wild, especially in the treasure trove of infectious Rock’n’Rolf-style guitar melodies and the overall vibe of the tunes (although the lyrics have nothing to do with piracy, rum or buxom tavern wenches). Their music still fits neatly in the family of bands that includes the likes of Stormwarrior, Paragon, Wizard, Elvenstorm and so on. Guitarist/vocalist Jens Borner still bellows out the vocals in a gruff but tuneful shout in the general vicinity of Udo Dirkschneider or Chris Boltendahl. Undoubtedly, Borner’s voice is limited in range (a source of consternation to those who are super-picky about vocals), but I think he’s great. For my money, Jens Borner’s singing conveys power and emotion more effectively than many of those polished multi-octave crooners out there. He really sells these songs. And the band still mixes up their material, deploying high-velocity bangers like “Demon’s Fire” or “Rise to Victory” alongside mid-tempo crushers like “Keeper of the Underworld” or “When the Angels Fall” (which gloriously hits the accelerator just after the halfway point).
If you’ve ever liked Lonewolf before, you’re certain to love ‘The Heathen Dawn,’ simply because the band retains all their trademarks while executing everything at a level commensurate with, if not exceeding, their best work. Nowhere is this more apparent than the proper album closer, “Song for the Fallen,” a slower tune that is a stirring tribute to the Paris terror victims with a terrific hook and a truly metal message to the perpetrators: “An eye for an eye / A tooth for a tooth / You will die.” “Song for the Fallen” may be Lonewolf’s finest hour to date. Simply brilliant stuff. Elsewhere, songs like “Wolfsblut,” “Into the Blizzard” and “Until the End” are stirring examples of this style done right, with killer riffs, awesome melodies and terrific songwriting. The 13-song, 60-minute affair (if, like me, you buy the digi with two worthy bonus tracks) never grows tedious or tiresome, despite the overall similarity of the material, simply because Lonewolf have elevated their songcraft.
My praise notwithstanding, I do have a twinge of sadness in penning this review. Guitarist Alex Hilbert (a mainstay in the Lonewolf camp since 2009’s ‘The Dark Crusade,’ although he originally played bass) is integral to the songs and sounds of ‘The Heathen Dawn.’ He wrote or co-wrote the music to all but four tracks on the album, and played all lead and solo guitars (those glorious Rock’n’Rolf melodies!). But Hilbert left the band after finishing the recordings for ‘The Heathen Dawn,’ amicably so, judging by his ex-bandmates’ kind words of brotherhood in the liner notes. To fill these very big shoes, Lonewolf have recruited guitarist Michael Hellstrom (Elvenstorm). Although Hilbert will surely be missed, I can’t imagine a more suitable replacement than Hellstrom, and am excited to see where the Hellstrom / Lonewolf collaboration leads when the ninth Lonewolf studio album hits the shelves, presumably somewhere around late 2017 or early 2018. As Hilbert’s swansong with Lonewolf, however, ‘The Heathen Dawn’ is a magnificent parting gift, indeed.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~