A band has to have some nerve to put out a concept album these days. Especially if they play prog rock, which is sure to get eyes rolling anyway.
Fortunately, Wolverine’s Cold Light of Monday doesn’t really feel like a concept album. On this departure record by a Swedish group previously known for death metal, the music tells the more compelling story. A solitary, achy voice opens with a moaned lament. Organ chords creep under a sad, ornate vocal melody. A soft drumbeat, meticulous guitar echoes, and hints of xylophone and theremin pulsate a trippy cycle of alternating time. Finally, at the perfect moment, a bombastic harmonized chorus breaks out of the restraint, dressed in late-’70s Styx. The phases shift so naturally that it could all be one song, but we’re already on track three.
The lyrical turning point, “Dusk,” recants the opening poem and adds a slithery guitar riff, both worthy of Jesus Christ Superstar, but with Peter Murphy as Judas. The words come from the singer’s work with troubled youth. The main character, Sarah, keeps getting wrapped up in abusive situations after having been brutalized as a child. Problem is, the beautiful narration gives her no personality. All we know is, her life really sucks. Later, it sucks even more. And at the end, she realizes how much it sucks! Along the way, tears stream down her face, her “porcelain eyes” break, a new boyfriend starts “unleashing his fire,” and she lies on a dirty floor in a puddle of blood . . . twice. Vaguely fetishistic, the tale is better left ignored. If the band needed a narrative structure to inspire a great music, the story serves its purpose.
Now, if you’re in the market for a Swedish metal band named after a predatory mammal and earnest prog seems like a chore, Wolf just want to have fun. No, sorry—they just want to “stay evil.” They also stay pretty catchy throughout an album that could be the Roget’s Thesaurus entry for the word evil. “1. the devil; 2. werewolves; 3. vampires; 4. darkness, night; 5. blood; the color red; 6. death.” And, in the only song in which they presumably disapprove of something evil, America: an “angel of death,” a “bloodsucker,” a “mechanic, manic, black assassin.” All this sung with operatic Iron Maiden vibrato—but much better melodies—over Twilight Zone guitars and Motörhead rhythms. And the song “Wolf’s Blood” reveals that even modern-day werewolves speak in Shakespearean.