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Wolf Counsel : Vol. I - Wolf Counsel

Stripped-down, ready for action and all set to kick out the jams: Wolf Counsel's debut.

What do you look for in your Trad Doom? Serious question, and the answer will pretty much determine whether you're going to get on with Wolf Counsel - obviously, starting by winnowing out the non-Tradsters immediately. For those still here: if it's something as faithful to the pioneering Proto-Doom/early Doom no-frills templates of Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Pentagram as possible, this should be for you.

Though a recently-formed band, founder, composer and main musician - playing everything except lead guitar - Ralf Winzer Garcia has already had a career spanning back to the early '90s with Thrash band Curare, and taking in various Death Metal-orientated outfits like Uppercut and (the Swiss) Requiem. Joined by guitarists Tom Kuzmic (from Disparaged, amongst others) and Andreas Reinhart for studio-work, the Zürich-based band is supplemented by Requiem drummer Reto Crola for live shows.

Credentials thus established, the evidence of them is duly distributed via a rather tastefully presented slab of exclusive green vinyl (also available as an extended downloadable option), complete with full lyric/information sheet and an enigmatic, understated portal adorning a black-backgrounded cover. It's not immediately obviously a gateway to Doom, in fact: the triplet of wolf-heads and the song titles on the back cover put me more in mind of Tank's 'Filth Hounds Of Hades' than anything else.

That's misleading, just like the 30-second intro, 'The Gathering', which probably meant well but falls really flat. I've had a lot of experience with theatrical sound effects, and I appreciate how difficult is to get animal cries in isolation to sound remotely natural. Ironically, this is still true even if you're working from an almost unadulterated recording of real animals in their natural habitat, so the short opening cacophony - sounding like a couple of whiny synthesised dogs - is sadly pretty typical of what probably started life as a genuine wolfpack howling at the moon.

Skip the intro, though, go straight to the hallmark bass-favouring heft of 'Visions' (whose cadence and feel, rather than actual sound, suddenly - and not for the last time - had me thinking of Black Sabbath: on this occasion, a slower 'Children Of The Sea'), and it becomes very clear what this is about. It's moved by the same spirit that had bands at the end of the '60s searching for the heaviest and most pulverising sound possible, and it echoes all those periodic revisitations to the amp-worshipping, unadorned four-piece format along the way since. Listen to the slight overdriven hollowness just before each track cuts to silence, and the occasional rough buzz of distortion to the production: that, right there, is all about going up to 11.

With that perspective sorted, 'Vol. 1 - Wolf Counsel' makes a great deal of sense. It has no great pretensions hiding under the skin, and very little hidden agenda (the lyrics espouse a naturalistic, atavistic philosophy, but you couldn't really describe that as 'hidden' in any way). Other than gentle nods to later Metal trends (such as with the gruff-vocalled, slightly sludgy 'Passages'), there's little that couldn't have been laid down any time since the '70s. This is rock'n'roll, baby - stripped-down, ready for action and all set to kick out the jams: the latest in a long, long line of bands to understand that the purity of the hard rock hook aims at the gut, not the head.

It's packed with verse-chorus-solo-repeat-to-end, every song a separate anthem-in-waiting: that blueprint absolutely made for the riff. And it works: an exercise in infectiously catchy rolling thunder, given additional weight and darkness by the disciplined pace of the Doom beat, compositionally cleverer and more complete than the at-first-glance unsophisticated building blocks. Behind the bludgeoning heaviness lies subtle changes and hesitations in the lead and rhythm guitars, bass runs and drum ornaments filling in the background, plain and excellent deep-timbred clean vocals fitting sweetly into the song structures. There's a slight falter with the somewhat monotone 'Battles', but the LP B-side, opening (like a doomed-down take on Soundgarden's 'Rusty Cage') with the stereo-separated clarion-call guitar riffs of 'Seeking Myself To Live', gets it spot on throughout. As do the extra 3 tracks/15 minutes on the e-version (available separately, but also included free with the LP purchase), which contribute some of the finer moments to the overall package.

Pretty much by definition, what really matters in Trad genres is not the degree of innovation, but the enthusiasm and quality of execution. You get both here and, as with all good rock albums, they're aimed straight at punching your most primal response-to-music buttons. For my money, Wolf Counsel succeed in doing exactly that. Authentic, and elegantly classic.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. The Gathering
2. Visions
3. Battles
4. Seeking Myself To Live
5. Wolf Counsel
6. Passages*
7. She*
8. Now Is Here
9. Uneven Twins*
* Not on LP - included on the electronic release

Duration : Approx. 31 minutes (LP)/47 minutes (e-release)

Visit the Wolf Counsel bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-03-15 by Mike Liassides
Aesthetic Death
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