WOLVES IN WINTER – The Calling Quiet (2023)REVIEW

With geologic time behind their reign and all environs predated dissolution hangs omnipresent within the minds that teem the growing barrens. Inching about the hive they observe the rust spotting on the walls, where the leaks and decay begin to show, as a point of character for their legacy and its endurance. Bodies atrophied and wingless, thoughts fleeced of their adaptive nature unto stupefaction, the wallowing achieved is little more than the inner organs themselves clinging to the thoughtless innate, the snap of smooth muscular wringing. Despairing purpose, a fatalistic lament at the cusp of physical resignation, wriggles throughout the six part last-gasping dissent of Bradford, West Yorkshire-based doom metal quintet Wolves in Winter‘s debut full-length album, a sombre yet occasionally anthemic work sure to burst the ribcage of the unwitting populace as its earnest, emotionally charged weight quickly sinks in. ‘The Calling Quiet‘ communicates the burly existential response all generations of doom might recognize in its willing together of the dramatic, introspective lush-tones of modernity with the inspiring gait of traditional heavy/doom metal songcraft, landing an ‘epic’ yet earnest drift which demands it be remembered.

Wolves in Winter formed as a core duo in 2020 and soon pulled in fellow ex-members of underrated doom metal band Monolith Cult, a former guitarist for classic thrashers Slammer, and the former vocalist from psychedelic rock/sludge group Pigwitch. Their original idea was arguably less consistent in tone, or, still freshly melding into a sound concept based on what I’d heard (a demo version of the song “Nemesis”) yet some of that funky sludge/doom metal wobble persists on the two songs they’d removed from the final cut of ‘The Calling Quiet‘, you’ll get some sense of what I mean in previewing “Promise of Gold“. While it’d make sense to check out “Sobering Thought“, another song cut from the final release to keep it about ~40 minutes for the vinyl pressing, you’re getting a bit of chaff, a straggler, and the record is better off without either cut piece. You’ll find no reasonable precedence heading into this album suggesting that their core idea is ripe enough to call for a full-length. To make matters worse they’ve not bothered to release a preview song/single ahead of release and this is a shame because the cut songs aren’t properly representative of just how good (great, even) this album is.

Eh, well then, what does Wolves in Winter sound like? British doom metal to be sure, a distinct bit of soar in vocalist Jake‘s exceptional work herein recalls the charismatic delivery of late 90’s Solstice and the introspective grit of earlier Warning, lending a more anthemic feeling than most will expect heading in. A slightly above-average standard met for singing in general but a strongly connective and versatile presence for doom metal’s emotive standards. This primes the final result to warm the mind with a ‘Foundations of Burden‘-level of downtuned, surreal tonal thickness alongside songcraft comparable to the more pensive moments on the second and third Spirit Adrift records, emotional breakthroughs within beautifully built choruses. ‘The Calling Quiet‘ is accessible in the sense that it finds some reasonable position between modern fidelity and melodicism while still bearing classic 90’s traditional doom metal traits enough to grime up the more bare emotive range and stark imagery explored.

Beyond the fine work of the vocals implied the lyrics themselves are most key foundation for the greater affect of the album’s six main pieces, each of which address the individual and their relationship with an increasingly taxing, maddening society where the existential dread and futility that comes with feeling “stuck” or cornered into one’s perceived place lends a spine to the discourse. By embodying an accurately dire postindustrial human dynamic as “slave and master”, servitude in service, there is yet a love for the “work” of art expressed as we reach the grand finale which arguably comes in two bigger climaxes, first the personal breakthrough (“Promised Harvest”) towards resilience and later what seems to be reflection near-collapse (“Calling the Quiet”). My own interpretation, anyhow. The important remark to make about the lyrics is that they’re delivered with a brain behind the tongue-and-throat wagging, which perhaps arrives upon something profound by way of a glorious collage of personal resonances gathered from interest in literature and philosophy.

With three 6-7 minute pieces on each side of ‘The Calling Quiet‘ we are treated to an entirely round, neatly arranged glom of their very best work which has greatly benefitted from being sliced down to prime length specifically for the vinyl market. As an introduction to the world and the voice of Wolves in Winter ~42 minutes is exactly right, the perfect length of time to win over the unsuspecting listener without exhausting the dramatic introspective tone of the full listen or drying out the idea bank into redundancy.

We strike into the experience reaching for its (arguable) biggest hook in opener “Cord That Ends the Pain”, currying about two minutes of build toward what has proven to be an unforgettable chorus on my part, a moment emphasized by the extended refrain beyond. Production values have a bit of a bite to their fuzzier, slightly distant guitar tone while the wah-crisped bass guitar reads especially key to the presence of this opening track. Most every element is set to a world class, glassy and thunderous doom standard thanks to Chris Fielding (Conan, Foel Studio), a rare case of modern doom metal in dynamic render where I’d naturally discovered more detail as I cranked the record up. “Nemesis” follows, now seemingly transformed beyond the early single version that’d been released a couple of years ago. This is some of my favorite guitar work on the album in terms of the rhythm work as finely knotted as the best of early 2000’s Pale Divine while the vocalist flexes his range and the use of harmony both in terms of climactic vocal and lead guitar weilding. Side A wraps up with yet another standout and the song that’d finally had me clicking about feverishly trying figure out how I’d randomly put on one of the finer modern doom record I’d heard in years. Reaching that ~2:37 ’til 4:01 minute refrain on the song was a turning point for the record, something less predictable which’d enhanced the mood rather than disturb the tract.

Side B is sleepier overall but certainly not to start, the Bolt Thrower-esque leads, stomping riffs and impassioned height of Jake‘s vocals raising “Promised Harvest” to a quick and enduring favorite on the full listen. “Oceans” is the ballad moment, the quietest and most introspective piece which finds it rocking Alice in Chains-esque wailing reprise in its second half to great effect. You’ll note at this point that I’ve nothing too negative to throw at the band and, sure, some of these moments are old tricks of 90’s rock and sludge/rock in general but at no point does it feel like we’ve crossed from heavy/doom metal into radio rock for guys over forty, the hooks are there on each song nonetheless. Now the bigger point to make about Side B is that the last two pieces took about ten listens to fully click into place for me and that’d been because I was so fixated on the heartier impact of the first four songs, wanting to slap repeat on those before I’d reached those final fourteen downtrodden minutes of the spin.

I’m not sure if I can suggest Wolves in Winter have served a grower so much as an album which made its case humbly, without any noxious hype driving exploration, allowing a few days (weeks at this point) and several listens ’til I’d sorted the bigger, more obvious moments and discovered the subtleties that tied it all together. Beyond the unforgettably anthemic and bounding affect of the songwriting being inherently catchy, there is some depth worth repeatedly exploring on ‘The Calling Quiet‘ and thus far this feels like one to stick rather than wither. This’ll have to be the rare band where I’d say “don’t touch a dial, just keep writing songs” because there is obviously a decades trenched skill level at work here which doesn’t need a nudge and no doubt the songcraft is there. I’d just as well suggest this album could’ve been a bummer if they’d kept those extraneous pieces on, and whatever process pruned this record down to six euphoric slabs was its major blessing. A very high recommendation.

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.