Sweden’s Wolf released their ninth album, Shadowland, earlier this month. Another slab of quality Heavy Metal, the band has wasted little time following up on 2020s Feeding The Machine.
Shadowland is filled with strong, muscular Heavy Metal that crosses the cleverness of Megadeth with the Metal confidence of Dio. Wolf do what they do without fuss or flamboyance, but they do it incredibly well.
MetalTalk spoke with Niklas Stålvind, the sole original member whose lead vocals and guitar playing on Shadowland are as impressive as in previous times.
Wolf were formed in 1995. “We just wanted to write and play the music that we enjoyed listening to,” Niklas said. “We grew up on Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept and the rest of the classic bands, and we hadn’t grown out of it as most people did in the ’90s. I didn’t like the ’90s very much and felt like an alien in those days. I felt like I didn’t belong. Playing the music that I liked helped me feel alive and content.”
1995 was a strange time for Heavy Metal. There was Black Metal, Death Metal, grunge and the shoots of Nu Metal all coming through, but traditional Metal in the style that Wolf played wasn’t really a big thing.
“Where we were located in Sweden,” Niklas says, “I would say classic Metal wasn’t a thing at all. Classic Heavy Metal existed only as a joke, and it was considered as a sign that you were a bit retarded if you listened to it. We despised that attitude. Our ambition was just to produce top quality songs. We put a lot of effort into the songwriting. It was us against the world kind of feeling in the old bomb shelter where we rehearsed. We always knew that someday people would start liking this kind of music again. It only took ten years longer than we expected, [laughs]. But here we are 27 years later, and the songs are still our top priority. Everything else is just the icing on the cake.”
Wolf released Feeding The Machine in March 2020, possibly the most challenging time for any band to put out new music. They were on tour with Grand Magus. I saw them in Bristol, which was a good show, before everything ground to a halt. “As you can imagine, it didn’t feel good at all,” Niklas said. “The lockdowns began the day we released the album, and the album just died. It was a strange time.”
Wolf completed the UK leg of the tour, which was scheduled to finish on 26 March in Hamburg. “The plan was to finish the rest of the tour and we were looking forward to it,” Niklas says. “But sadly, Grand Magus decided to cancel the tour, so we didn’t get to finish it. It would have been cool to do one tour on two albums. We became more and more aware during the week we toured that things weren’t going too well, and everything was very uncertain. On the last two shows, there were people who didn’t show up because they were too afraid to go out. It felt surreal. I coughed on stage on the last show in London, and the audience went completely silent, [laughs].”
Shadowland is an excellent record, with some very striking artwork with religious connotations. “Yes, I love the artwork too,” Niklas says. “It is a big oil painting by Swedish painter Thomas Holm. He has done most of our album covers and we love working with him. Other than Wolf he is famous for the iconic Mercyful Fate albums Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath as well as some early King Diamond album covers. The design was completely his own.
“When we have an album ready, I discuss the titles and themes on the album with him, and after that, he comes up with his own interpretation of it. He have told me he sees Heavy Metal in pictures and indeed he does. He sent this painting to us and it felt just completely right for the music. The fact that it is an oil painting on canvas gives it a timeless feel, which I love. It looks great on vinyl. You can really see the texture of the canvas.”
With time to write and shape Shadowland, as Wolf could not tour, Niklas says the writing process was easier than usual. “Writing and recording this album was a breeze compared to how it usually is for me doing a Wolf album,” he says. “I think the other guys in the band had a smooth ride as well. We couldn’t tour so we could really focus on the writing instead. We recorded the album in Simon Johansson’s studio SolnaSound Production, which is a great place to work in.”
There is a track on the album called The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake. “It’s an old urban legend,” Niklas says. “A modern myth, if you will. I stumbled upon the story through a song by Tom Waits called Poor Edward. When I read up on the story, I couldn’t help myself but write a song on it, though Edward Mordrake has been featured a lot in popular culture.
“Edward was an English nobleman who had the unfortunate fate to have been born with a second face in the back of his head. Like an undeveloped co-joined twin. It was very nasty and hateful towards Edward and eventually drove him to suicide. A doctor published the story as a case studio in a scientific journal, and people believed it to be true. But in these modern times, we can consider it debunked. Or can we?”
I love the track The Time Machine. It’s big, bombastic and one of the best on the album. It’s one that I think Ronnie Dio could have written – it has that majestic feel about it. “That was a song I got from Pontus and Simon,” Niklas says. “I love the main riff in 5/4 time. I wrote the melodies and lyrics to it in my head when I was carrying out my day job. The title is a nod to the prolific science fiction writer H.G. Welles.”
Rasputin is a topic that many bands have written about and yet is still so mysterious. “It was written about 12 years ago, so I don’t remember where I got the idea from,” Niklas says about the theme of the mad monk. “But sometimes, when I stumble on an intriguing story like that, I just can’t help myself. My story about the mad monk is told from the perspective of the tsarina Alexandra. She sure had a thing for this mysterious figure. ”
Album promotion, post-Covid-19, in effect means Wolf have two albums worth of material to get out and play live. One live show in Stockholm a few weeks ago saw them back up on stage after such a long period of time away. “It was like putting on a pair of old worn-in jeans,” Niklas says. “That perfect feeling. The audience was on fire. There was such a hunger for live music again. It is always a challenge to go up on stage and perform. People deserve the best from you when you do it, so I’m always a bit nervous. This time was no different, really.”
Many bands say they gradually warm up and improve as a tour progresses. “Usually, after three of four shows, things start to feel really good, and you don’t have to think as much,” Niklas says. “Just enjoy the ride. The voice has been warmed up and adapted, and that goes for playing the instruments as well. After a while on tour, I like how the band and crew start to become well-oiled machinery.”
There’s a big challenge booking tours and festivals now, and this is something Wolf are fully aware of. “Everything is lagging two years behind,” Niklas says. “We had two tours booked, perfectly lined up for the album release, but they both were cancelled a while ago due to everything being so uncertain in the live industry. Now we see small signs of hope, though, and we’re working to get touring going again in the autumn. We can’t wait to bring the Shadowland album out on the road.”
Niklas says that Wolf are very diverse in their music listening tastes. “Well, at least I am,” he says. “I listen to a lot of stuff and not only Metal. One of the bands I have enjoyed recently is Wytch Hazel and there are many more bands. I listen to almost everything. Surf rock, Slayer, Jazz, Opera, ’70s rock, Black Metal, porn music, etc. I’m not very keen on modern Metal though or the pop music that’s on the radio nowadays.
“Some people seem to like new music because it’s new and hip, but to me that doesn’t mean a thing. If it’s good it’s good and there’s nothing new under the sun anyway. Not to my ears at least.
“And I still listen to my old favourites. Just the other week, I revisited the first two Iron Maiden albums and had almost forgotten how much I love them.”
Shadowland, released through Century Media, is out now. Read the MetalTalk review here.