Lonewolf - Army of the damned 4/5
2. Crawling to hell
3. Army of the damned
4. Hellbent for metal
6. Celtic heart
7. The last defenders
9. The one you never see
10. Tally ho
11. One second in eternity
Without a doubt, France’s Lonewolf are one of my favorite true metal bands of the last decade. Both their 2008 opus, ‘Made in hell’, and their late 2009 offering, ‘The dark crusade’, were stellar CDs capturing the spirit and heart of classic Running Wild, filtered through a rough’n’ready musical approach that could be likened to the Paragon/Sacred Steel/Stormwarrior family of bands. Nonetheless, I was a bit anxious about their new CD, ‘Army of the damned’, because Lonewolf were making the daunting leap from a small German indie label (Karthago Records) to the much larger, well-heeled Austrian label, Napalm Records. Could they retain their mojo, their integrity, and their true metal heart? Also, the band experienced a painful line-up change with the departure of longtime lead guitarist Damien Capolongo, a hole they plugged by having bassist Alex Hilbert switch from bass to guitar (the instrument he used to play in Nightmare) and adding new bassist Rikki Mannhard.
You know, now I feel silly for worrying. ‘Army of the damned’ follows proudly in the tradition of its predecessors, and will forever be honored and treasured as another fine Lonewolf CD. Everything I’ve always loved about the band remains fully intact here. The beefy, gruff, but oddly endearing vocals of Jens Borner are as powerful and effective as ever. Hilbert’s fingers dance on the fretboard, giving life to compelling melodies that tug the heartstrings even while Borner peels off devastating riffs underneath. The band’s worship for all things Running Wild remains plainly visible for all to see, particularly on “Cold”, “Tally ho” and “Lonewolf”, the latter 2 of which are among the finest songs in Lonewolf’s repertoire. The eponymous “Lonewolf” features the choir singing, “And we will defend/True metal ‘till the end”. You either love this stuff or you don’t – there’s no room for middle ground here. And the band’s penchant for straight-up fist-pumping, Teutonic beer-hall styled anthems is proudly displayed on “Army of the damned” and “The last defenders”.
So make no mistake: This is the same Lonewolf that’s been with us in full force since at least ‘Made in hell’ (when they refined their sound to perfection). That’s not to say, however, that ‘Army of the damned’ is a plain vanilla cookie cutter replica of ‘The dark crusade’. To the contrary, there are some subtle differences. Lyrically, Lonewolf tackles World War II themes on a couple of songs. In a somewhat unexpected twist, Blaze Bayley does an interesting guest vocal spot in a duet with Borner on “The one you never see”. And Lonewolf try their hands at incorporating more of a folky feel into the pounding 6-minute epic “Celtic heart”, complete with Braveheart-type lyrics. “Follow your heart/Make your own path/We are free men, my son.” Ultimately, though, these are just variations on a familiar theme. Lonewolf are following neither the Sabaton path nor that of the myriad folk metal acts on the Napalm roster; rather, they’re simply adding a couple of new ingredients to the old familiar (and very tasty) recipe.
Existing fans of Lonewolf can proceed to purchase ‘Army of the damned’ with confidence that the Frenchmen have done themselves proud once again. For those who’ve never encountered Lonewolf before, now’s your chance. If old-fashioned, bullet-belted, studded, leather-clad German-style heavy metal floats your boat, then you are in for a treat with Lonewolf. Hopefully their alliance with Napalm Records will lead to much broader worldwide exposure for Lonewolf, and propel them to globe-spanning acclaim. Either way, however, Jens Borner and his henchmen will not waver, they will not falter, and they will not fail. As the titular track put it, “Through waging waters and through storms/Still we are going on/Preaching the iron religion.” And God bless ‘em for it.
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