Swiss doom merchants Wolf Counsel have been playing their gloomy trade since 2014 and despite having released two other full-lengths to date, they have flown largely under the radar. Age of Madness/Reign of Chaos is the band’s third album in as many years, giving rise to the very real worry of creative burnout or stagnation. Worse, peddling the kind of classic doom Wolf Counsel trade in that revels in the low-and-slow end of the pool leaves the very real danger of fatigue, or worse, boredom, setting in without some level of creative approach. The only thing not slow, in fact, about the approach to metal here is the frequency the band has turned out new records.
Fortunately for Wolf Counsel, Age of Madness/Reign of Chaos does not fall into the trap, that so many doom acts fall into; of being slow for the sake of it. The pace never really picks up, the album crawling past at an utterly glacial pace; a fitting metaphor given that the music contained herein is also monumentally heavy, with plodding riffs that could crack a planet. Vocally the band lean away from the more punky snarls found in genre stalwarts Cathedral and sound far more haunting, almost liturgical in part, having far more in common with Saint Vitus and Pallbearer. The guitar work alternates between crushing heaviness and yearning melody, feeling less like guitar solos and more like an extension of the main melody when the vocals do drop out to allow the instruments to shine. And shine they do; a particular highlight being around the five minute mark of the title track, where the crushing gloom gives way to a more subdued and melancholic passage; with the guitar melody longing after something long lost. The band aren’t afraid to change things up either, such as on fourth track “O’ Death” which features some guest female vocals that entwine with Ralf Garcia’s to form something almost grungey but still unspeakably heavy.
If any criticism is to be had, it’s that at forty-one minutes across seven tracks the album does tend to drag even by doom’s standards, and there is occasional filler seeming to serve only to extend song lengths further. These detours don’t always work, the exception being the excellent title track that just so happens to also be by far the longest track, clocking in at just over ten minutes, a good quarter of the album that draws the listener down into its murky, crushing depths and refuses to let go, or to allow any to swim out of the mire.
Such classic doom sounds effortless, and despite not bringing any new elements to the table, Wolf Counsel take a tried-and-tested formula and successfully make it their own. Age of Madness/Reign of Chaos differentiates itself in how well the various elements all draw together, especially the fantastic guitar work and the vocals occasionally reminiscent of Gregorian liturgical chants to form an enthralling work of art.
Standouts: WolvenEarth, Age of Madness/Reign of Chaos, O’ Death