Powerwolf are a band of frustration for me. Consistent high quality, albums which are “all killer, no filler”… and to the best of my knowledge they’ve never played a gig anywhere in the UK outside of London – at least while I’ve been living here. I’ve seen footage of them live and they look incredible, but our London-based correspondent Stefan is the one who’ll likely be catching them later this year on their only UK date. GRR!
My annoyance is compounded by the fact that they’ll be touring in support of new release Blessed & Possessed which continues their run of incredibly good material.
The opening (and title) track contains every element that I’ve come to love of this somewhat mental band: a catchy, shouty chorus; blistering classic-metal style guitar solos shared between the two leads; pounding rhythm; choral vocal overtones; an element of heresy. Quite simply, “Blessed & Possessed” is pure Powerwolf.
The unrelenting rhythm continues with “Dead Until Dark”. Dorn’s vocals soar over and are emphasised by van Helden’s drums while the brothers Greywolf churn up a storm on the strings. There’s less background atmosphere on this one from Schlegel’s keyboard, but that’s hardly an issue. Despite their overbearing sense of pomp and enormity, Powerwolf seem to have a knack of building things up to be just a notch under “over the top”. Wonderfully ludicrous.
“Army of the Night” is a definite for the live shows, in my opinion. As the first chorus kicks in, the rhythm’s perfect for synchronised overhead clapping before belting into a chorus that should have an army (clever, eh?) of fists punching the air. This is as rousing a song as they come, truly a battle anthem for the Powerwolf masses.
Taking a slightly different approach “Armata Strigoi” goes for the slow/heavy approach. The keyboards are back in force, fully backing the strings and drums as Dorn weaves what sounds more like a tale than an anthem.
“We Are The Wild” brings to mind the classic metal anthems of the eighties, and would be a great closer for a live set. The sort of thing that leaves you on an utter high and wanting more. And it has a pre-chorus that must have been written with the idea of getting a crowd singing along.
Blasting along at breakneck pace, “Higher Than Heaven” just sweeps everything in its path to a painful death. If you’re not air-drumming along to this after a single listen then you need to check your metal credientials. I’ll accept posing with a clenched fist and your elbow on your knee.
The one track on the album that doesn’t quite work 100% for me is “Christ & Combat” and I can’t quite nail why this is so. It’s a historical epic, thunders along at breakneck pace and contains lyrics about rotting bodies. I think it’s because it’s only 95% brilliant and therefore pales every so slightly to the rest of the album. It also sounds very “DragonForce”, but I’m a fan of that band as well so that shouldn’t cause me a problem.
A mild Gothic edge surrounds “Sanctus Dominus”, probably the most ecclesiastically-influenced of the songs on Blessed & Possessed. Admittedly this is primarily due to the lyrics being predominantly in Latin!
“Sacramental Sister” kicks off like Iron Maiden back when they were good (I’m braced for the hate mail…), and goes for the “slow-burn” approach. Along with “Christ & Combat” it’s a track that I don’t think quite goes with the rest of the album, but still isn’t bad by anyone’s standards.
As we near the end of the album, “All You Can Bleed” tickles at our balladic heartstrings with airy strings at the beginning. Then it stops messing about and gets back into proper breakneck mode.
Rounding things off is “Let There Be Night”, a wonderfully cheesy title for a track that begins with a wonderfully cheesy set of sound effects and proper pipe organ tones. It’s a standout track on the album for being so different to the rest, yet it sums Powerwolf themselves up. Grand, bigger-than-life, operatic and metal as all hell.
Blessed & Possessed is a great album. If there is any criticism (and it’s not one from me, but some people could argue this) it’s that there’s not really been any big change in Powerwolf’s sound in the decade since Return in Bloodred. Yes, they’ve got better and yes, production has improved. But the seeds sown in that first album had grown to fruition by the time Lupus Dei came out and now they’re just plucking from the same tree with each album. My argument is that if the fruit’s that good, why bugger about with it? Powerwolf have a winning formula and six albums in they’re still stupidly entertaining.
So I shall level another complaint instead – and hopefully one that bands take as a compliment: they need to play more UK dates. Specifically, they need to come to Glasgow so I don’t have to travel a ridiculous distance to see them. This album is good enough to sell me on seeing them live and they’re teasing me with that one date 412 miles away!
Blessed & Possessed is out through Napalm Records on July 17th.