There was once a time that Nightrage could have laid claim to being a bona fide supergroup. The presence of Greek guitar wizard Gus G and vocalist extraordinaire Tomas Lindberg on their first two albums was enough for some to validate the music by name power alone, but both records were able to stand toe to toe with the best the genre had to offer. The departure of both shortly thereafter hasn’t dampened the endeavour of the band, even if they seem to eternally be living in the shadow cast by those two sublime releases. We’re close to 15 years since then, and Wolf to Man finds Nightrage pumping out another set of typically blistering melodic death metal songs.
I don’t feel that Nightrage have ever done anything particularly special from a songwriting perspective. It’s very much melodeath in the vein of old school In Flames and Arch Enemy, with songs built around a huge, memorable melody or two. Where Nightrage have always excelled is the excellent guitar lines, which are usually strong enough to string along songs that would otherwise be consigned to the mire of mediocrity. Wolf to Man doesn’t break this tradition, continuing to exhibit Iliopoulos’ seemingly endless supply of high quality melodies that have been the hallmark of the entire Nightrage catalogue. The rest of the band certainly don’t let the side down either, providing the spark and drive that’s required to make this style of music work. That said, Ronnie Nyman’s vocals, competent as they may be, are a little flat and dry, lacking the explosive, ferocious depth of Linberg, Tägtgren, Stanne or the like.
I’d forgive anyone for being apprehensive having heard the two lead singles for the record, as they’re not representative of how good things get. “The Damned” is probably the worst song here, mainly let down by Nyman’s fruitless attempts to sound unhinged in the verses and like a gritty heavy metal monster in the chorus. “By Darkness Drawn” checks all the right boxes, but simply suffers from having some of the weakest musical ideas on the album. These two sit in the middle of the record alongside the riff happy “Arm Aim Kill”, another relatively forgettable number, and it doesn’t help the album’s pacing to have these three grouped together at the halfway point.
Fortunately for Nightrage, they’ve bookended these duds by some much better material, so enduring them is worthwhile. The opening combo of “Starless Night” and the title track are your standard Swedish style melodeath, moving with an effortless guile that helps overcome the lack of originality. “Embrace the Nightrage” and “Gemini” bare their fangs a little more, but still find time to jam plenty of wonderful harmonies into their aggressive riff sets, whereas the bone crunching “God Forbid” hits with more calculated, concise blows. The commercial overtures do little to damage “Desensitized”, which should go down well with fans of modern In Flames, whilst “Disconnecting the Dots” is far from the construct of disarray the title conveys, delicately balancing sumptuous melodies with massive riffs and anthemic vocal lines. “Lytrosis” closes the session out with a brief instrumental fling of acoustic pluckings and electronic leads – not an uncommon occurrence for Nightrage or melodeath in general. I guess old habits die hard.
There’s plenty to like about Wolf to Man, despite the mid album dip. There’s no new ground broken, but Nightrage are so familiar with the territory that they know how to efficiently harvest the resources at their disposal. The converted will need no persuasion, but if you find Arch Enemy’s recent output to be too insipid, or long for In Flames’ late ’90s glory days to return, then this could be the sort of album for you.
Highlights: “Starless Night”, “God Forbid”, “Disconnecting the Dots”
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