The lads in Gloryhammer would do well to pay heed to the career of Germany’s Powerwolf. Here is an exemplar of a power metal act who swathe themselves in all manner of absurd, arbitrary gimmickry, and then proceed to write such consistently compulsive songs that no-one cares. I can’t even begin to fathom the level of irony on which I enjoyed the band’s fifth outing, Preachers of the Night, if indeed my enjoyment was at all ironic, or whether irony was part of the musicians’ intention. Often, jokes are just a way of hedging our bets when it comes to saying or doing what we actually feel. Perhaps the comic surrealism of Powerwolf’s obsession with using anthropomorphic wolves as sardonic parodies of the Roman Catholic clergy gives listeners license to get into the broad, over-the-top exuberance of their tunes to a degree that would be unseemly if the package was presented with a straight face. Or maybe the hooks really are just so tremendously infectious that they’d provoke that response anyway. The point is moot – I listened to the record with a shit-eating grin plastered all over my face from beginning to end.
On one level, Powerwolf’s obvious generic antecedents are their countrymen Running Wild. Although modernised and coated with the 21st century sheen of gloss that one expects from any act on Napalm Records, theirs is, at heart, the same gritty, worldly approach to power metal. Songs all fall into the three-and-a-half to four-minute range, eschewing long-windedness in favour of getting the optimal response from the crowd in a live setting. Tempos range from mid-paced and anthemic (“Sacred & Wild,” “Coleus Sanctus”) to rampaging speed metal (“Secrets of the Sacristy,” “Cardinal Sin”), but every track infallibly offers an enormous central hook and milks it for all it’s worth, expertly prolonging and intensifying their exuberant crescendos until the listener’s adrenal gland is apt to give up from exhaustion. Power metal is rousing by nature, but seldom is that quality so constantly, rigorously enforced, save maybe by Sweden’s Sabaton.
There is, I think, another important point of reference that describes and explains Powerwolf’s appeal: Spinal Tap. The subjects of Rob Reiner’s famous mockumentary, with all their shallow extravagance and bombast intended as a critique of the heavy metal scene of 1984: believe me when I say, I mean the comparison in a positive way. Powerwolf go to 11 in more than one sense (whatever else it may be, Preachers of the Night is really fucking loud); excess and German power metal are not newly acquainted, but in this band’s case, it feels as though excess is almost the point. Preachers of the Night exists in comic book dimensions – it’s both simplistic and exaggeratedly bold, adopting basic verse/chorus song structures but never executed with anything less than maximum intensity. Frontman Attila Dorn bellows every line at the top of his considerable lungs with no attempt at moderation or modulation, and is frequently backed by choirs howling in Latin for that extra push into portentousness so overbearing it’s silly. The guitars, already pretty tremendously heavy, have their every note augmented by layers of synthesisers (often in the form of church organs, because the band can’t seem to get enough of their evil Catholic Church shtick). Bombast is the name of the game; a Powerwolf without bombast would be no Powerwolf at all.
Here’s the thing though: bombast, filtered through the appropriate channels of self-awareness and knowing absurdity, can be a force for good. Where Spinal Tap’s overblown antics denoted emptiness and artistic vacuity, Preachers of the Night offers empowerment and validation. That’s not to say Powerwolf aren’t shallow and silly, but those things are in no way detrimental to their effectiveness and it doesn’t render one’s enjoyment of their music any less valid. Music that can prompt a powerful emotional reaction is valuable. If that reaction is unchecked, blood-pumping enthusiasm, I’ll take it without a moment’s hesitation.
01) Amen & Attack
02) Secrets of the Sacristy
03) Coleus Sanctus
04) Sacred & Wild
06) Cardinal Sin
07) In the Name of God (Deus Vult)
08) Nochnoi Dozor
09) Lust for Blood
10) Extatum et Oratum
11) Last of the Living Dead