The California quartet paves a new road to tread in their Sophomore release.
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
In 2018, the dramatic breeding of blackened death metal and sludge had taken form in the hands of the young and vicious group from the bay area, known as WOLF KING.
Featuring groovy passages and chugging verses that seems to lurch forward a riff and dual vocal at a time, the group's persona was cemented in the minds of many as a hydra of sound and fury; the idyllic no-frills American death metal band that could cross the atmospheric sound barrier seamlessly and still take influence from the scene greats who had laid the groundwork over thirty years prior.
After numerous U.S. tours featuring a slew of heavy hitters and genre legends who themselves defined a new sound, the boys from the bay settled in for a long quarantine of writing, where a follow-up to their infamous Loyal to the Soil (2018) could be birthed.
So appeared The Path Of Wrath.
From its initial explosion, this album is a steamroller of ambitious tricks and new attitudes that hammer home the idea that this is not the same WOLF KING of three years ago. A new aura of control and laser focus stems from a collection of songs that pay off for the patient and the active listeners. This reviewer has kept a watchful eye on other publications that have written this album off as both too bold and forgettable. To that point, it's arguable that perhaps some were too eager to paint the group into a single gimmick, a single sound, and a single image of their own projections for their future, and that is what can only be noted as a failure of vision. For those willing to listen, this album is a broader picture of both the range, and the limitations of the group as a whole.
Rather than be bottle-necked into a familiar sound, the boys have stuck their hands in several pies, all of which are flavored by the influences of their predecessors. It's an orthodox and respectful tour of the various tastes of the band members and their eclectic, unfiltered pasts. The melting pot of sound hidden in every track features a wide overlap into the catalogues of virtually the entire gamut of death, black, thrash, and crust punk pioneers who have been cited as a pillar of the community. Trusty bay area punk riffs mingle with Floridian death chords that fly a high sail of melody as a middle finger to the thought that they cruised by on rhythm alone.
There's groove and swerve on songs such as the title-track and Incantation. It's a welcome flair that hasn't been properly done since the likes of Chimaira, and to hear it produced with such style and consistency makes me question if other bands even truly appreciate what a challenge it is to slow one's pace down to make an album more fun and staggered by design. There's a time and place to break up the theme and monotony of a track-list and WOLF KING display a keen awareness of the elements of pacing that turn most albums of this length into a slog.
Benefiting from the seasoned hands of Jack Shirley this time around, The Path of Wrath takes a hard-line position on bringing out the balance of the score in an effort to appreciate each part for its respective part and suppress the post-production sound favoritism that tends to creep into a final product. It works obscenely well and there are times where the depth of the sound per track can be almost traced by sonar in the right listening conditions. In a contest of clarity and sound quality, this is the clear and apparent gold standard and this reviewer would like to see this kind of fine-tuning become a habit for new groups cutting their teeth in the genre.
As previously stated, there's a little of something for everyone here. Speedy punk, slow swaggering death metal, and hair trigger blackened thrash make multiple showings that often turn two tracks into one long song that blend seamlessly. Even the slightest gasp of prog can be heard, providing a launch pad for tracks such as The Oath and Grief Portrait, a couple tunes that prove that listeners haven't seen the bottom of the well in terms of sound diversity and range. While jarring at first — the collision of sound that soon follows both track intros are a house audiences have been inside before, and it's a warm blanket of good emotions and nostalgia. Blast beats galore, a new crisp snare, and vocals that echo clean and clear shine in isolation and as a centerpiece to the fresh and frustrated vigor that turns a kit into a machine gun and guitars into violas. That kind of control and development typically would take a decade to appear, but with WOLF KING, it's just the sample of what has been forming since the first album and it doesn't take much to see that they're dead serious about forcing their way to the front of the pack.
The Path Of Wrath should come with its own disclaimer. It borrows little to nothing from its own older sibling and has genetic remains of albums that listeners across the board can identify at a moment's notice. From early 90's melodeath to mid 80's thrash, this album contains the most precious fragments of what fans value and adds it to a growing arsenal of riffs and fills that compete with known Polish Black Metal legends and the most jaded Philly hardcore crust punks. Sometimes difficult to pin down to a single vision, it's an evolution that both confounds and entertains, and while the players have primarily remained the same — the game has most definitely changed. Its themes tackle everything from nihilism to the hopelessness of a coming end, and just like a Shirley Jackson story, it twists and distorts in ways that defy the logic of its own existence. It's not for the expectant, nor the calculating. Defying any algorithm and known trajectory, The Path of Wrath takes a vicious year of loss and confined frustration and molds it into a musical weapon that exhales venom as a byproduct, and produces fans from a single song. There's something for everyone, there's nothing to be afraid of, and there's so much to look forward to when these guys take to the stage again.
The Path of Wrath is available now courtesy of Prosthetic Records. Grab your own copy HERE and snag a repress of Loyal to the Soil while they last.