Leatherwolf - World asylum 4/5

Reviewed: 9-8-06


1. I am the law
2. King of the ward
3. Behind the gun
4. Live or die
5. Disconnect
6. Dr. Wicked (Rx O.D.)
7. Institutions
8. Derailed
9. The grail
10. Never again

True confessions: I never owned or heard a Leatherwolf album back in the day. Despite their much-ballyhooed triple-axe attack, I was going through my heavier-than-thou phase during the Los Angeles melodic metallers' 80s heyday and somehow decided that they were too wimpy for me. Probably my loss, but such was life in the information-starved pre-Internet days where arbitrary snap judgments of bands were formed on the basis of MTV singles, Hit Parader articles, cover artwork and song titles. Now older, wiser and better informed, I picked up the band's reunion CD, 'World asylum', based on a number of favorable reviews online. As with many 21st-century incarnations of 80s metal acts, the term "reunion" is a bit misleading, as only creative principals Geoff Gayer (guitars) and Dean Roberts (drums) remain from the golden days; however, the assembled supporting cast is quite distinguished, including axeman Eric Halpern (Destiny's End, Distant Thunder), 4-stringer Pete Perez (Riot) and throat Wade Black (Crimson Glory, Leash Law, Seven Witches).

For once, the hype was justified, as 'World asylum' is an absolute skullcrusher of a CD. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Leatherwolf have successfully threaded the needle's eye by, on the one hand avoiding the safe approach of churning out another stale 80s-styled nostalgic rehash, but on the other hand eschewing the opportunistic trend-hopping that has killed many a reunion dead. This CD is heavy-duty U.S. power metal that sounds like no one else, but is perhaps reminiscent of the likes of Winters Bane or Cage, albeit with more fluidity, texture and songwriting prowess. Now boasting a more conventional dual-axe attack, Leatherwolf emphasize killer guitar harmonies and riffs straight from the old school of U.S. metal, but with more aggressive arrangements and a wicked heavy production. Gayer and Halpern are an outstanding tag team, with their perfect synchronicity sounding like they've been playing together all their lives. And the much-maligned Wade Black delivers the best vocal performance of his career, demonstrating far more power, control and nuance than he did on the shrieky 'Astronomica' debacle with Crimson Glory a few years back. Black will never be confused with a Bruce Dickinson, a Rob Halford, or an Eric Adams, but he has matured into a competent singer who reminds me of a more versatile Michael Vescera (Obsession, Loudness, Reign of Terror, etc.) in places.

The Gayer/Roberts songwriting collaboration has struck gold on most of the 10 tracks on display. Opener "I am the law" sets the tone, exploding like a bullet from a gun. Cuts like "Derailed", "Behind the gun" (a possible song of the year candidate), and "Live or die" burrow deep into your consciousness from the very first listen, sporting great playing, hooks galore, and power to spare. The only missteps are "Institutions" and (to a lesser extent) "King of the ward", which seem cut from a different cloth than the other tunes, and perhaps written with an eye (ear) to modern rock radio airplay. Even these partial duds have enough fiery guitar work and melodic strength to be salvageable. Besides, the 'World asylum' tracklisting boasts 8 bona fide hammers, so I'll forgive the band's experimentation on the other 2 cuts.

'World asylum' vastly exceeded my expectations, and is one of the finest CDs to have graced my stereo in 2006. Of course, I cannot vouch for how it will be received by long-time Leatherwolf aficionados. It's certainly possible that the heavier approach and vocalist change may be disconcerting to some. Nonetheless, I would classify 'World asylum' as a must-hear for any devotee of catchy, powerful U.S. metal delivered with class and panache.




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