This one came out a couple months ago; however, I fear it might have escaped the gaze of even ardent metalheads still nursing their Christmas/New Year’s Day hangover bangovers. To my ears, this album is one of most exciting new releases of the first quarter of 2018, so I’m doubling back to shine a light on it. The name Old Wolf may not ring a bell, but that’s understandable, as they’ve kept a pretty low profile thus far. Based in Somerset, Kentucky of all places (home state to the mighty Savage Master!), Old Wolf released a superb 3-song demo in late 2015. A year later, the good folks at Divebomb Records did the world a favor by including the entire demo on its Masters of Metal: Vol. 1 compilation CD (which also featured demos from Riot City, Crypt Sermon and Hellrazor). Somehow, Old Wolf was temporarily derailed in 2016 / early 2017 by what they described on their Facebook page as an “agonizingly long hiatus,” but they successfully rallied and regrouped in the first half of last year. At that time, the band recorded their full-length debut album, Faustian Mass, which finally saw the light of day in CD format via Divebomb Records in early January 2018.
Make no bones about it: Old Wolf are waving the flag proudly for classic, old-school heavy metal. They describe their influences as including the whole NWOBHM movement, as well as the usual suspects like Sabbath, Priest and Thin Lizzy. Old Wolf distill these fairly run-of-the-mine ingredients into something special. The twin guitars of Jake Wilson and Jerome Peters are nothing short of spellbinding, showcasing a remarkable sense of melody and exquisite harmony of the Maiden / Thin Lizzy variety. Moreover, Old Wolf are blessed with an outstanding vocalist in the form of Ric Langford, whose mid-range, unpolished voice isn’t really similar to anyone else’s. There’s an emotional quality to the vocals, as Langford strains to reach for those powerful high notes. It works really well. Songwriting is compact and straightforward, with most of the songs hovering around the four-minute mark. A notable exception is the seven-minute closer “Howl,” where Old Wolf indulge an extended instrumental break in the middle section and the Wilson/Peters combo truly shines. Speed mavens be forewarned: Old Wolf do not step on the accelerator. Rather, Faustian Mass is perpetually locked into a comfortable midtempo, riding those timeless riffs as the rhythm section rumbles and lumbers menacingly beneath. There are no gimmicks, fancy tricks or whiz-bang bells and whistles at work here, just a five-piece band rocking out, playing old-fashioned, unpretentious, blue-collar heavy metal from the heart. That’s good enough for me. The material is uniformly strong, but I’m especially partial to “Your Keeper,” which was my favorite song from the demo and unsurprisingly enough is my favorite here as well. That said, new cuts like the superb “Executioner’s Hymn,” “Faustian Mass” and the aforementioned “Howl” absolutely hold up their end of the bargain and earn their keep(er).
If you need a benchmark comparison for Old Wolf, I might say they sound like Argus without the doom elements, or High Spirits without the fast happy parts. The label also says Faustian Mass is recommended for fans of bands like Grand Magus, Eternal Champion, and Visigoth, and I can see that as well, although there are significant differences between Old Wolf and each of those acts. The simplest way to put it is like this: Those who appreciate and enjoy the new wave of traditional heavy metal (and particularly the American variant) really owe it to themselves to check out Faustian Mass. It’s right up your alley. I only have a couple of nits. First, all three demo songs are included on the album, which means both that my ears naturally gravitate to those tracks because I already love them and that there are only five proper new songs (as well as a spoken-word intro and a short instrumental). Second, there are some fairly prominent atmospheric synth parts in a few places. For my personal tastes, the tunes would be stronger and more potent without them, but that’s just my anti-keyboard bias rearing its ugly head. None of that detracts from the main conclusion, which is that Old Wolf kick ass and Faustian Mass is a great example of old-school heavy metal done right. They’re on the prowl, hear them howl!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~