Wolf

Ravenous

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Swedish heavy metal purists Wolf jettisoned fully half of their lineup (including longtime bassist Mikael Goding) prior to recording their fifth album, 2009's Ravenous, but fans need not have worried (and indeed, they really didn't worry) that this would affect the nature of the band's "classic" sound, so long as founding vocalist, guitarist, and de facto leader, Niklas Stålvind, remained at the helm -- which he does. Nevertheless, with any measure of change come changing perspectives, and the increased songwriting contributions of recently acquired co-lead guitarist Johannes Losbäck (in his second outing with Wolf), not to mention the hire of producer Roy Z, sparked a healthy six-string relay race that made Ravenous the band's most guitar-centric project yet. Redundant as such a claim may seem when applied to any heavy metal band, knowledgeable enthusiasts of the genre will readily recognize it as fact once the galloping riffs and dueling harmonies of opener "Speed On" inaugurate the album's battle of the axes. This proceeds apace over irresistible head-banging highlights like the Pharaonic (i.e. Iron Maiden/Powerslave) "Curse You Salem," the alternately doomy riffs and choppy staccatos of "Hiding in Shadows," and the sheer majesty of closer "Blood Angel," which features "Diary of a Madman"-like acoustic guitars from Roy Z. It's also these roaring riffs and fleet-fingered leads that ultimately spare more accessible numbers like "Hail Caesar," "Mr. Twisted," and "Hiding in Shadow" from enduring an '80s hard rock fate worse than death itself. But then along comes a mid-paced anthem like "Love at First Bite" that falls into the trap anyway, yet still manages to acquit itself thanks to shamelessly lascivious vampire lyrics and a general vibe right out of the Accept handbook. Another highlight is provided by the album's title track, where Wolf invites Mercyful Fate legend Michael Denner to take a solo, and, as expected, it's really quite a treat. And in case you were wondering, yes, there are a few rather uninspiring offerings here that get mired in predictable arrangements and repetitive ("Voodoo") or nonsensical titular choruses ("Whiskey Rebellion Hellions" -- huh?), but the final balance still places Ravenous near the top of Wolf's none-too-shabby discography, making it a can't lose proposition for both veteran fans and brand new arrivals to pick up.

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