By James Rundle
Until late last year, it had been years and years and years and years since anyone heard from the Winston-Salem, N.C. indie punks Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves.
Now, you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone stoked beyond measure about their April 7 album. Titled ‘cursecursecurse,’ in the band’s typical disregard for syntax, it is their first new release in over half a decade.
Wolves gathered a devoted following with the 2013 release of ‘Subtle Serpents’ and cemented their position at the top of the orgcore food chain with 2016’s ‘The Cross and the Switchblade,’ the latter a raucous, melodic assault of punk rock and elements of post-hardcore, mixing speed and humbucker-powered artillery with singer Brian Woodall’s etched-in-granite vocals.
The next record required something different.
“You don’t just want to make the next Cross and the Switchblade. You want to do something, like, the next step,” Woodall said.
The writing process started strong. Woodall had written the bones of the first single from the new album back in 2015: ‘Oh Catalonia,’ a love letter to Barcelona that Wolves released this February. Along with his brother, Kyle Woodall (drummer), they recorded the drums and rhythm guitar tracks in 2018. The second single, ‘Empires,’ released this March, had actually debuted live years earlier during their set at The Fest in 2019.
They began to hit roadblocks almost immediately, Woodall said.
A series of difficult line-up changes hindered progress on finishing the songs and, aside from a handful of festivals and shows, largely stopped them from playing live through 2019. They had some of the rhythm tracks laid down, but few, if any, lyrics.
The coronavirus pandemic provided a needed break in terms of the writing process. It allowed Woodall to get words on a page, he said, as he knew he wanted to get back to it as soon as the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders lifted. When that began to happen, in 2021, Wolves returned to the studio. Just as it came time to track lead guitars, another line-up change hit the band.
This left Woodall in the unenviable position of essentially finishing the record as a one-man outfit. Based on a few initial ideas, he worked out and tracked the lead guitar. He took a week off work to figure out how to write the basslines – he credits his success on those to a lot of time spent listening to Hot Water Music bassist Jason Black’s work – and then went in to finish the lyrics and lay down the vocals. It was, he said, a huge struggle.
“It’s not just, ‘well, this album has taken some time,’ it was problem after problem,” he said.
From the quality of the two singles Wolves have released so far, it would be hard to tell. The folksy intro from ‘Oh Catalonia,’ quickly gives way to serrated guitars lashing left and right, the raw fury of Kyle Woodall’s drums burst with crackling energy, alternating savagely between punk rhythms, backbeats, frenetic snare rolls, and cymbal strikes coated with venom. The use of backing vocals to contrast and accent the force of Brian Woodall’s anthemic, drawn-out lyrics creates a textured quality to the music that, perhaps, has been the missing piece all along. Meanwhile, a piercing, minor-led rolling lead line completes a staggering achievement, giving it a yearning quality, a sense of reaching for a memory or an ideal from another time.
It is music that makes you want to stand up and do something. Music that reaches through your ears and seizes your heart in the grip of a mailed fist. Art that excites your soul.
Wolves have always had an element of harnessed fury, evident in the heart-shaking stabs and ring-outs that define songs such as ‘Serpents,’ or in the burst of raw emotion that shapes the opening thrust of ‘Suicide Blonde’. But whereas ‘Subtle Serpents,’ their first release, shook with the violence of that anger, and ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ bled its emotions across verses and choruses to devastating effect, the songs from ‘cursecursecurse’ hit different. There’s a methodical, deliberate edge to the band, a sense of purpose and construction in the songwriting that speaks to the years of trials that it took to even get to this point. That keen edge to the music is still there, but it’s controlled and deployed as if in the hands of a samurai rather than a berserker.
The new record will also be their first release on A-F Records, an October announcement that triggered a relative volley of news from the Wolves camp, comprising a couple of upcoming releases, two track reveals from the new record, and a number of shows, including their very first New York City appearance during Music Fests Here at the end of April.
In many ways, though, the struggles involved with finishing ‘cursecursecurse’ are familiar to Wolves. ‘Subtle Serpents’ took a similarly lengthy amount of time to finish, involving studios that weren’t available anymore partway through the process, digital recorders that skipped parts of songs, and whole sessions where the snare mic wasn’t armed. The process was so stressful, Woodall said, that the band almost threw in the towel, figuring it would never get done.
It did, of course, and ‘Subtle Serpents’ is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. But, Woodall said, he has always had a sense of unfinished business with that record.
“We didn’t spend a lot of time fleshing it out. There are no backup vocals whatsoever on that entire album, and it really was more of a glorified demo,” he said.
That’s not to say he isn’t proud of ‘Subtle Serpents,’ and it opened doors for the band to sign with Gunner Records and tour Europe three times so far. But, he said, the band never really had the opportunity to fully realize their ideas.
They’re planning to correct that this year. While they don’t envisage a full overhaul of the songs, Woodall said, they do want to go in and freshen up the basslines, add backing vocals, to tweak parts here and there. The drums are being remixed up to the band’s current sound, and the work on that will continue in coming months.
“I just want to make it what it always could have been,” he said.
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