REVIEW: Two Hundred Wolves – The Hold

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When a band starts their album with a song that invokes a feeling of listening to the female version of Ian Astbury fronting KING CRIMSON circa 1982, it becomes quite obvious that the band is not set out to take it easy on the casual listener. TWO HUNDRED WOLVES is an interesting new art-rock outfit hailing from Tampere, Finland. Even after repeated listening sessions with their debut full-length, “The Hold,” due out on October 15th, 2021, via Ichorous Music, I am still quite hard-pressed to make up my mind as to whether I should think of the band as a prog-rock lineup that is joyfully messing around with the alternative and indie rock aesthetics from the buccaneer days of yore, or if I should view it as an art-rock project with a serious fetish for all things progressive. I mean, one moment the band sounds like the stereotypical mid-1990s alt-rock lineup hellbent on channeling the alienation of the disenfranchised youth and the next thing you know, the band summons the ghost of some pre-historical prog dinosaur in overly complex time signatures. Top all this with a vocalist that echoes the ominous femme fatale aura of Grace Jones, the dark and breathy intimacy of, say, Tanita Tikaram, and the dissident energy of Patti Smith – and there you have it. Founded at Tampere in Finland in 2018, the band is obviously still in its embryonic stages, breaking their sea legs by stretching in multiple directions at the same time, maybe not clearly knowing what they wants to do. Nonetheless, the selection of eight new songs is layered with a distinct sense of promise. With a little bit of refining touch, this posse could be on to something extraordinary.

The outing sets off with the aforementioned shock effect: the first riff to hit your ear is a dissonant and somewhat cubistic construction that is strongly reminiscent of the early-1980s KING CRIMSON. On top of this galloping motif, the vocalist sings as though ad-libbing with the vocal mannerism of THE CULT vocalist Ian Astbury. Halfway through the song, the metal-tinged fusion riffing gives way to dreamy alt.rock sections and the vocals start to channel the punk chic of Patti Smith. Now, in terms of music, I have seen quite a lot but this sonic serving was something quite unheard of even for me. The song sounds a bit weird but in a cool way – think of Astbury and Smith doing a duetto of KING CRIMSON‘s “Three Of A Perfect Pair” with the Big Muffs cranked up to the max.

The plot thickens with the track, “Oblivion,” resonating with the subtle echoes of A PERFECT CIRCLE – minus the signature vocal gimmicks of Maynard James Keenan, of course. Had this group thrown in a piano staccato or two, the impression would have been even bigger. The big chorus could have used a tad stronger vocal melody to make a home run, although the song stands out on the album as it is. (Yes, I’m a dewy-eyed sucker for all APC-influenced riffs but aren’t we all?) At this point, the script for the album starts to form a little: a stylistic quantum leap from fusion-tinted prog to APC over the course of two tracks – it makes you kind of prepare for anything. It is always refreshing to come across a band that chooses not to go the route of everyone else. The rock and metal scene is already infested with enough monkeys in business suits with matching mustaches. Inevitably, it is harder to carve out a successful career traversing the left-hand path, but I would dare to assume it is artistically more rewarding too.

By the third track, “Absolute Bearing,” the band’s Achilles’ heel becomes quite obvious. When the band lets rip in unison in 5/4 time-signature, the music slaps pretty hard. The vocal melodies, on the other hand, sound way too often as though having been ad-libbed without a second thought. I mean, it is quite hard to hum along if the vocal motifs are basically just improvised on the fly. I’m sure they all aren’t, but quite often they sound like it. Otherwise, the songwriting is top-notch, so this little blemish weighs the album down only a little on the whole. Those patches that have strong vocal passages sound convincing enough that with a little nurture, I’m sure this band would elevate its game from pretty damned good to friggin’ awesome. Some might also say that it is probably not a good idea to squeeze a dozen different ideas into a single song. Well, I’d say: just go for it! The history of rock ‘n’ roll is littered with prime examples of bands who turned a perceived “weakness” into their strength. The forte of TWO HUNDRED WOLVES, in my opinion, lies in the way the band makes music on its own terms, disregarding all pre-conceived notions of what is the proper way to make music.

I’m sure the business consultants would not deem it a proper code of conduct, after setting the tone of the album with a bit of heavy-duty prog, to break the flow by throwing in a bit of southern Gothic either. The track, “Event Horizon,” is music to play when the end credits of a haunting movie are rolling – you know, a movie with a message of death and destruction being inherently a part of the human condition, or something. While some of the vocal mannerisms could be served a little less frequently, maybe, I must say that the breathy vocals and the passages – where the delivery resonates with an authenticity reminiscent of Grace Jones‘ 2008 gem, “Hurricane” could be turned up a notch on this track, in particular.

Before the album grinds to a close, your delicate ears are exposed to sparkling guitar riffs on “The Transfiguration,” and if you think you have already figured the band out – think again. Enter a bit of math-rock vibes reminiscent of the Japanese band, TOE. It’s been a while, too, since I’ve heard a Maj-7 chord in this sort of context. Next up, “Threads,” throws in a good pinch of alt.rock vibes in 5/4 time signature, almost resonating with the air of early TOOL with female vocals. Here and there you can spot almost post-rockish crescendos and finally, “The Lawfulness Seems Without Ending” ends with nothing short of a haunting keyboard chord sequence.

The wild amounts of artistic freedom that TWO HUNDRED WOLVES is explicitly implementing on their debut album resonates with the original no-holds-barred ethos of progressive rock. Obviously, the band’s unified vision has not fully shaped and bloomed yet, but as a gambit move in the progressive scene, “The Hold” strikes me as a rather promising offering – a genuine tour de force of peerless versatility of the sweetest and strangest kind.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Visceral Redemption
  2. Oblivion
  3. Absolute Bearing
  4. Event Horizon
  5. The Transfiguration
  6. Threads
  7. Dream Sequence
  8. The Lawfulness Seems Without Ending

Lineup

Anna Matveinen – Vocals

Harri Lonka – Bass, synths

Raimo Kovalainen – Drums

Tommi Sarin – Guitars

Label

Ichorous Music

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