Wolf Counsel - Destination Void - (7.5/10)
Published on March 5, 2019
Being Swiss doesn’t get you very much except higher taxes and better access to dairy produce, so it’s a novelty to see Wolf Counsel doing their bit alongside Roger Federer to change the reputation of the country. A steady output since forming in 2014 has occupied much of the quartet’s time, though hasn’t stopped the death metal outfit Punish sharing three of the current line-up, as well as thrashers Poltergeist featuring vocalist Ralf Winzer Garcia and drummer Reto Crola among their resurrected ensemble. Despite the speed of Wolf Counsel’s output, the music tends to stay strong and steady, drawing on the rich tradition of classic doom metal.
This fourth full-length comes on much like the previous one, seven long songs filling 48 minutes with downbeat atmospheres and solemn themes, never challenging the preconceptions of the doom genre while ensuring that familiar listeners remain attentive. Due to different features of the sound, Destination Void may call up comparisons to Seamount (or whatever Phil Swanson is doing these days), Argus, Cathedral, and Count Raven to name but a few. The resemblance of Garcia’s vocals to Swanson’s occurs frequently and sounds uncanny at times, turning some heavily percussive doom riffs a shade drearier with the slow moan of the singer. One may term that trope a lack of expression from one quarter, and indeed the music would have improved from being given another dimension vocally, yet that desperate monotone certainly allows charisma to seep into the achingly sluggish parts of the title track and the quiet beginning of “Men of Iron Men of Smoke”. The clearest glimmer of a Cathedral inspiration can also be found in the organ introduction and lead-heavy riff of “Destination Void”, which bends the song inwards like lava flowing across stained glass.
Concerning standout features that Wolf Counsel can boast, the most attractive must surely be the fluency and creativity of the lead guitars, which turn several long solos into mazy runs of extended improvisation in the same manner as Argus at their best. That the highlights of epic closer “Staring into Oblivion” and “Nova” come at the moments when Garcia stops singing the longest doesn’t trouble the album per se; it only means that the lead guitars channel an attention to detail that runs inconsistently through the other parts of the songs. Crucially, the aforementioned closer captures everything that Wolf Counsel attempt across the album, not from the accumulation of all its parts but rather from the synchronicity of some hooky dirge-like riffing and the steady baritone vocals, mowing along on a grimly destructive Forest of Equilibrium trip until the listener becomes beaten down by the sheer weight. Total victory comes not in the other cuts. Simply put, the balance of killer ideas and savory yet ultimately just decent parts swings in the direction of the latter.
Wolf Counsel thus push all the right buttons for fans of heavyweight and classic doom metal to sit up and take notice; however, they don’t push them often enough or in the right order to spell out success. Only fools would complain about the intelligence of Crola’s performance on the skins or the natural, thick production that gets the bass to grunt out of “Tomorrow Never Knows” like a rhino with a hangover. Then again, even those same fools would notice that nothing particular jumps out on cuts like “Mother of All Plagues” and that a few songs contain quite noticeable periods of downtime that cannot always translate into renewed momentum and fresh ideas. As a major cause, the pacing throughout Destination Void hinders songs from becoming enjoyably unpredictable, since a low medium amble sets the tone for the majority of the time, occasional crushing slowness not exactly relieving the burden of extended listening.
Now that doom metal has blossomed into more than just a narrow circle of bands, the standards by which each album is judged will necessarily rise. That higher standard will not serve to leave Wolf Counsel out in the cold; however, the merits shown on Destination Void prove insufficient to put their name among the most well-known bands in the genre. If the Swiss group can capitalize on their lead guitar creativity, regularize their occasional rhythmic diversity, and bring the vocals into line with their sound more often, a great deal more might be written about them in the future.