I've been following French LONEWOLF on and off since their debut "March Into The Arena" back in 2002 and never really have been impressed enough to keep a closer look at them. Last time I heard them, they played a slightly rougher kind of Power Metal (alongside bands like RUNNING WILD or GRAVE DIGGER) with the gritty vocals of Jens Börner, which probably were the biggest splitter of potential fans, since they definitely are a far cry from the classically trained voices we often get in this sub-genre.
Anno 2012 LONEWOLF are signed to ever-expanding Austrian Metal stalwarts Napalm Records and are offering us their in total fifth album with "Army Of The Damned" and while I am not familiar with their last album "The Dark Crusade", this sounds a little different than what I was used to. Yes, RUNNING DIGGER still are a much-present influence and Jens' vocals have this slight gravel-like quality to them that will send the fans of the smooth and the polished running, but there is a more bombastic element, with some choirs and stuff that make this sound a lot more interesting than in the past! No, they have not gone limp and try to cash in on the RHAPSODY's of this world, but it is a welcome addition to their sound, giving it more character.
Most of the album is sitting firmly in stomping mid-tempo or the faster regions, but these days they do it with flair, with the choirs nicely offsetting Jens' gruff voice, setting a nice counterpoint. Opener "Lonewolf" bears this certain RUNNING WILD touch in the guitars in an overall upbeat setting with the just mentioned interplay between regular vocals and choir, displaying a nice set of dynamics, which carries over into the following powerful "Crawling To Hell". As enjoyable as these two tracks are, though, as stunning is the title track, dark atmosphere, intense slow double-bass driving on the song, very epic structure and great chorus, if you need any single track to draw you in, this is it!
Other than that I personally enjoy the Frenchmen best, when they operate a little faster, like the intense "Soulreapers" (with a very playful guitar melody), or have this nice sense of urgency as in "The Last Defenders" or the intense "The One You Never See", which in the chorus actually reminds me a little of Finnish TAROT. On the other side we also have few tracks that are not as successful, unfortunately, and therefore pulling down the rating a bit. "Celtic Heart" and "Tally Ho" both suffer from the vocals not being 100% convincing, while the music, especially of the former, is very good.
But with RUNNING WILD being a shadow (maker) of their former self, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little influence, especially since LONEWOLF seem to be on a good way of finding a good balance with the injection of some epic feeling into their songs. Now if Jens could just here and there smoothen out a little of the gravel in his voice and avoid it being more of a hindrance than an actual asset, then things would be looking even better, in any way, LONEWOLF have never sounded better than here!
(Online April 8, 2012)