Southern Lord has been cornering the market on all things crusty and d-beat-y of late, so it was little surprise when they announced that they’d signed long-running Swedish act Wolfbrigade. Starting out in the mid 1990s under the moniker Wolfpack, a name which they amended later to avoid association with a neo-Nazi prison gang, these punks released some absolute barnstormers in Lycanthro Punk, Allday Hell and Progression / Regression. (I must admit I’ve not heard their debut, A New Dawn Fades, or the album immediately after Progression, In Darkness You Feel No Regrets.) Blending the sound of Swedish käng with increased metallic heaviness, the likes of Wolfbrigade, Skitsystem and Disfear helped bring d-beat into the new millennium.
Post-Regrets, the newly christened ‘Brigade took a few years off in the early 2000s to recuperate and rejuvenate, emerging with the mostly by-the-numbers Prey To The World and the improved Comalive. Though they’ve long remained at the forefront of their scene, or perhaps because of that, post-reformation Wolfbrigade seemed in a rut. Where the fairly rigid constraints of the style once seemingly couldn’t hold their fury, those two records fell a step short of capturing the power of the first round, and it felt as if Wolfbrigade was treading water, perhaps still working their way through the lack of motivation that led to their temporary hiatus.
But that seems to have changed now.
Because, though it still operates within the paradigm in which the band has always existed, Damned is better than anything they’ve done in ages, easily since before their time off, and arguably since their name change. Sure, it’s not far removed from its predecessors – it’s still Motorhead– and Discharge-indebted d-beat crossed with death metal tones and periodically spiced with moments of surprisingly melodic guitar work. But it’s a more muscular affair than Comalive and Prey – its arrangements are stripped back, and yet beefed up with a distinctly Swedish tint to the guitars, and the entire thing is performed with the palpable fury that characterized Lycanthro Punk almost two decades ago. It’s still d-beat, but it’s more metallic than that record, in both composition and tone.
Produced by Frederik Nordstrom (Opeth, Amon Amarth), Damned sounds as strong and lean as the band that made it – it’s the arguably the best production the band could have, and certainly the best of any of the five Wolfbrigade/-pack efforts I own. The Swedeath tone gives these tunes a rumbling bite that’s sharper than Comalive, and those thick guitar and bass tones lend Damned a heaviness that the previous few efforts didn’t quite achieve. The band recorded the basic tracks entirely live, overdubbing only lead guitars and vocals, and that live-in-the-studio energy is entirely noticeable, giving their performances a whip-crack tightness and tautness.
And, of course, none of that would matter if the tunes weren’t well written, but as they always have in their best moments, Wolfbrigade has managed to make their anger memorable. Opening with two of its most straight-ahead d-beat bruisers, Damned hits its stride with “The Curse Of Cain” and “On Your Knees… In Misery,” both of which exhibit the band’s blend of punishing punk, melodic touches and metallic heaviness. The album’s centerpiece (literally and figuratively) is “Ride With Steel,” which opens with some post-rock-ish clean chords before kicking into a driving groove and closing on a thrashing instrumental outro that could’ve been lifted from a mid-80s Metallica album. (That’s a good thing.)
Be it by virtue of the improved production, the live recording approach, or just simply the right time and the right tunes, these Swedes seem re-energized. Some may call it trend-following, signing to Southern Lord and amping up the Swedeath sound, and hell, maybe it is, but it works, and it sounds killer. In the long run, all’s well that ends well, and Damned is one hell of a raging ride.