The fourth output from this highly prolific German supergroup/experimental project, Wolves Reign is proof positive that masterminds Mark Sweeney (ex-Crystal Ball) and Michael Voss (Mad Max, Michael Schenker) haven’t yet run out of steam. Recruiting the talents of Biff Byford (Saxon), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Oliver Hartmann (Avantasia), Steve Grimmet (Grim Reaper), Brad Gillis (Night Ranger), George Lynch (ex-Dokken), Chris Holmes (ex-Wasp), Rudi Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne), Marc Lynn (Gotthard), Volker Krawczak (Axel Rudi Pell), Alex Holzwarth (Avantasia) and more, you can bet your bottom dollar that this one is going to be a must for fans of classic heavy metal glory – and it is. With so many different heavy metal lineups here, you can definitely expect a great deal of variety on this disc as with the others, albeit this album seems to be focused more towards the classic sound and seems to drive away from the more power metal influenced styles and musicians that were prevalent on some of the earlier albums. Wolves Reign feels like time traveling back to the eighties, and that’s just fine with me.
Breaking it down in a track by track format, we begin with the speedy “Falling” which features Timo Somers (Delain, Vengeance) on guitar and Claus Lessermann (ex-Cacumen, Phantom 5) on vocals, with Rudy Sarzo on bass. Lessermann’s vocals truly shine here, especially when the chorus entwines with the backing nodes provided by the synths and Jean-Marc Viller (Daydreamer, Neverland). The majority of solos on this record are absolutely remarkable, with this opening piece being no different. I will admit that it’s an odd place to open the record, but it definitely pumps in enough high-powered octane to get my attention. The composition focuses mainly on strong leads, there are no hefty downtuned guitars or technical theatrics to be found. “Run All Night” is a bit chunkier, with Michael Vescera (ex-Loudness, ex-Dr. Sin, Obsession, Killing Machine) on vocals, Somers on guitar and Marc Lynn handling bass duties this time. Drums are being handled by Wolfpakk’s drummer Gereon Homann for the first seven cuts, so I don’t feel it necessary to mention him in every description. In any case, Vescera’s voice lights up the sky as what I could only consider to be another boost of nitrous oxide is utilized in the tempo. The synths also give the piece some depth, if Vescera’s performance wasn’t good enough already. “Blood Brothers” came next and struck me as a bit odd. Odder still, as it features the legendary Saxon frontman Biff Byford on vocals. Added to that, we have Brad Gillis on guitar. The chorus pounds in pretty well, accented by a smattering of great leads right at the end, but the “hey ya, hey ya, hey ya!” (imitating a Native American chant) seemed a bit out of place and overkill. I think I would loved the song more if they had picked another line for backing vocalist Jean-Marc Viller to tackle. The solo section is also quite memorable, fronting what I’d consider a very triumphant piece – it just doesn’t feature as much as I’d like from Byford, but I’m sure a new Saxon is due is anytime now. The next cut here is the ballad and title track, which features Tony Harnell (TNT, Skid Row, Starbreaker, Sonic Adventure) on vocals along with George Lynch (ex-Dokken, Lynch Mob) on guitar and Volker Krawczak on bass. Harnell’s performance is pretty remarkable, making for a great sing-along ballad. The toned-down nature of this piece makes the solo section feel nearly romantic – you don’t often hear that these days. Romance and metal has become sort of a very gothic thing, and it feels like newer artists may have forgotten some of the memorable ballads of the eighties.
On the second half of the album we have a slightly different feel in “No Remorse” which actually feels a bit Japanese power metal inspired. It’s a departure from the first few cuts on the album, but this might be a good thing as people can get worn out on the same style when displayed for too long, and to it’s credit – the song is actually quite solid. Oliver Hartmann fronts the piece along with Alen Brentini (Alen Brentini) on guitars, helping to create a piece that feels right at home in the land of the Berserk mythos. Particularly during The Golden Age arc. I actually feel that Japanese ears will enjoy this one a great deal, especially. “Inside The Animal Mind” is a complete departure from that, featuring Jioti Parcharidis (Victory, Human Fortress) on vocals. It feels very Motley Crue in nature, but I am quite turned off by Parcharidis’s vocal approach here. Maybe it’s just the song, but I’m just not digging his lines and it feels a bit under-cooked for me. I suppose if I listened to it a few more times, it might eventually begin to sink in. Following that we have “Scream Of The Hawk” which features Steve Grimmet (Grim Reaper) on vocals along with Michael Müller (Jaded Heart) on bass. It also follows a more modernized power metal formula, with a worthy chorus that I think will also sink in after a few plays. If you can’t tell already, I had a bit of a problem with the mid-section of this album which didn’t really pick up until “Mother Earth” the ninth track. “The Ten Commandments” came next with Pasi Rantanen (ex-Thunderstone) on vocals and Alex Holzwarth on drums. I wasn’t entirely crazy with the lyrical matter as the ten commandments have never really been my thing, but aside from that, I had a very tough time getting around Rantanen’s vocals. It’s not that he can’t sing, but that he can’t sing as good as some of the other frontmen here. At least not anymore, apparently. The only real thing that I liked about this one was the middle-eastern influences in the solo section. A surprisingly lengthy and unexpected track bursts in next, as “Mother Earth” is surprisingly not the subtle ballad that you may have assumed it to be. A passionate vocal performance from Ronnie Atkins consumes the chorus, with Jen Majura (Evanescence – yes, Evanescence – Amy Lee wouldn’t know a good guitar solo if it hit her in the head) on guitar duties, actually getting a chance to show that he can do more than write simplistic synth-rock for the radio. Additionally, Simone Christinat throws some backing vocals on this piece as well as the following cut “Tomorrowland” (which is a bit shorter). With such a long piece, the band are able to really dig in and experiment with all sorts of progressive atmospheres that make for a rather spirited mid-section. The chorus is definitely pasted everywhere, but the fact that Wolfpakk as a whole decided to give this track a little more than just a verse/chorus setup is something worth applauding.
“Tomorrowland” actually feels like a Beatles ballad at first, with subtle piano creating the background for Danny Vaughn’s (ex-Waysted, ex-Tyketto, Vaughn) heartfelt vocal performance. As the guitar warms up, it definitely feels like a classic eighties’ serenade, but on a much different level. The lyrics here relate to the future of mankind and not so much a romantic relationship. It’s a bit of a sad rock track, I’d say – the tone of the piece is a bit glum, but it still works. I am quite reminded of Hearin’ Aids “We’re Stars” to be honest. The last piece on the disc here is “I’m Onto You” which features Andy Lickford (Killer) on vocals along with Chris Holmes on guitar. It’s a way for the band to end the disc on a rockin’ note, but seems out of place right at the end of the disc. That being said, I don’t think that they wanted to end it with the previous. That being said, this one does feel like a bit of a bonus cut that was just sort of lobbed on at the end. It never feels like much, and again – that sort of backs up my “B-Side” statement.
When it’s all said and done, I’ve noticed that the album had an incredibly strong opening with several memorable cuts coming in nearly one after the other. Despite the odd choice for Biff Byford, the record seems to come off without a hitch – until it hits the middle ground, that is. Much of the material is slightly different than what we’d expect and could translate into several hits and misses for listeners. That isn’t to say that these pieces aren’t worth listening to – they most certainly are – but I didn’t catch anything all that remarkable. “Mother Earth” really started to pick things up again until they went for a Hearin’ Aid impression and threw in what sounded like a cast-off directly after that. Perhaps Wolves Reign isn’t their greatest, but it is a pretty stable recording and I think there’s enough here to warrant a listen. Especially if you really like guitar solos.