Saturday, July 25, 2015

Album Review: Powerwolf - "Blessed and Possessed"

The coming of a new Powerwolf record is like a visit from that old friend that you haven’t seen in a lifetime, but the conversation always seems to pick up where you last left off.  Normally, music fans’ reaction to a band that stamps out one style of record is swift and vociferous, as fleeting, fickle tastes demand some new innovation or mechanic.  Once or twice in a generation however, there’s an artist who falls under what can casually be called ‘The AC/DC corollary;’ a band who has such thorough understanding of their niche and charm that they do the unthinkable – never change their sound one iota and still be crowd pleasing and effective.

My compatriot Chris recently put it to me thus: “Powerwolf is one of those bands that absolutely makes the same record every time out, and I think that's perfect for them. I don't want to know what Powerwolf doing something wildly different sounds like.”  He has a point, because the corollary question there is ‘what else would you want Powerwolf to do?’

Not far from the top we hear the most clarion example of everything we’ve discussed to this point.  “Dead Until Dark” feels incredibly like a song we already know – maybe a b-side selection from “Blood of the Saints” or something from “Preachers of the Night.”  That’s not to say that it’s stale or sounds like a misbegotten retread, no, just that the song so demonstrates all that we know and love about Powerwolf’s singalong anthems that it feels natural and comfortable to hear it again.

Shortly following up on that cut is “Army of the Night,” the kind of cut that thrives on a crisp punctuation of percussion and a rousing, all-in chorus hook.  Not to cross too many nerd lines here, but the song could really function as the theme for the upcoming season two of “Attack on Titan” (sidebar: anybody ever noticed the trend that anime shows almost invariably have crappy theme songs?  Is that a written law somewhere or something?)  It’s another gleeful variant of the idiomatic Powerwolf formula and feels right at home batting in the top half of the lineup.

As if the idea needed further reinforcement, the listener is then greeted with the powerful recitations of “Armata Strigoi,” a chanting rumble that invariably becomes deeply rooted in the auditory canal and incredibly difficult to dislodge.  Hours of otherwise productive time during a work day will be spent humming the simple but remarkably effective cadence of the melody.  Powerwolf’s ability to use frequent returns to craft a rolling call is underrated; it’s an employment of a technique that’s borderline based in the call and response and blues, but the theory behind it has been tested and found true.

The album’s highest achiever is “Higher Than Heaven” an energetic romp featuring all the caution of an unbridled charger.  This is the prototype song that Powerwolf has always built their sound around, a carousal of reckless abandon that sounds like the victory song of a mead-soaked Germanic hunting lodge.  Nevermind that the song reminds ever so vaguely of a stepped up version of the Stonecutter’s theme, this is the kind of opus that brings smiles to the listener.

The most difficult concept in all of consumable mass media is defining the perpetually elusive ‘it.’  In power metal, a genre that commonly refutes the idea of evolution or change, determining what’s ‘it’ is even more arduous.  That said, Powerwolf has ‘it.’  In a subgenre clogged with many middle-aged men adorned with stringy, long hair that believe with a straight face that the sensibility of the eighties remains alive and well, Powerwolf remains a fresh face, capitalizing both on the innate humor of their presentation and the inimitable drama that Iron Maiden laid the groundwork for.  This works.  “Blessed and Possessed” works.  Don’t miss it.

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