Monday, 21 March 2022

SheWolf - SheWolf (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Symphonic Power Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 18 Mar 2022
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Here's a band I first heard on Chris Franklin's glorious Raised on Rock radio show and immediately noted down for review. I'm very happy to say that the album lives up to whichever track he played that day, even if it opens up with hints of a folk metal element that don't really manifest. Sure, I'm hearing flutes at a couple of points, like in a tantalising midsection in Lone Wolf and a brief pause in The Thrill of the Chase, but this is never really folk metal. It's symphonic power metal, with the two sides of that just as important as each other, and it's good stuff.

I can't remember which song Chris played that first time, because he could have picked any one of them and not been wrong. The One You Feed is an excellent opener. Welcome to the Pack is a little better again. Lone Wolf is a step up again and could well have been my choice if I were in his shoes.

If anything else can class as better than that one, I'd call out Moonbound, which is a real gem from its bombastic opening notes, the song building from the parade of little tinklings behind the early emphasis to a magnificent power note from the lead vocalist known only as the Shaman. This is an immediate song, one whose groove you'll just fall into the first time you hear it, but there are also layers that you'll keep discovering each time you go back. And trust me, you'll go back.

It's an understatement to say that the Shaman has some serious pipes on her. She has a warm and accessible voice that plays more in traditional power metal melody than the musical theatre that so many symphonic metal singers lean towards, but she can hit notes and enunciation just as well as they can. I don't think this album shows off everything that she can do and I'm interested in the next few albums that I'm sure will bring out more of her talents.

One criticism I'd have is that when a band has a singer who can do this sort of thing, it becomes an easy choice to play with dynamics, crafting songs to take advantage of her range, but SheWolf are resistant to a degree. Take Dimash as the epitome of an example. He has no intention of taking a song to eleven from the outset. He takes his sweet time building it from nothing to the showcase moments that stun us. SheWolf could do that but only Nothing is Forever truly tries, starting out with quiet oohing and solo piano and voice, but even here that voice never hides its power.

We know it's there, folks, and that it'll show up soon enough. Don't rush it. With this album under your belt, be confident that we're fully aware of how much power you have to wield and then play around with other intensity levels until you need it. One moment of artistry that made me smile is the beginning of Home, because it tells us promptly that it's going to be a ballad, teasingly hints that it won't be, then teasingly hints that it will be after all and then, of course, isn't. That's a nice use of dynamics. The all too brief drop into piano at the end of Safe in the Dark is another.

The other thing I got from this album that isn't a criticism at all is that these songs are uplifting. I don't mean to suggest that they're designed to be inspirational, because that's a genre nowadays as much as a mood and that's not what this is. They're just inherently upbeat and refreshing. It's a tough task indeed (and one that I don't want) to listen to a song like The Thrill of the Chase and not be caught up in that, as if we're running with the pack and howling with the sheer delight of it.

One side effect of that is that some of these songs, notably Fallen with You but others too, such as Lone Wolf, could work as decent pop songs, as much as I prefer them as power metal. They're built from melody so fundamentally that turning the heaviness down quite a few notches and switching the very able instrumentation to something more electronic and pulsy, and you have a chart hit. I don't want to suggest that SheWolf should do this, but it's illuminating that they could. This is why they can throw an orchestral version of Lone Wolf onto the end of the album as a bonus, because it doesn't rely on genre to work.

This is the debut album for SheWolf, who hail from the unlikely town of Southampton, not the first place I'd think of when I wonder where the best symphonic metal comes from. But hey, with a band of this sheer quality leading a scene, that could change, and perhaps all it took was a Greek singer showing up. Hail the Sotonians! Now, am I going to up this from an 8/10 to a 9/10? It's very possible.

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