Death Wolf is the side project of Marduk’s Morgan Håkansson, originally known as Devils Whorehouse – unsurprisingly a Misfits tribute. As mildly entertaining as the first Devils Whorehouse EP was, personally there didn’t appear to be much mileage in the project and I never went back for that band’s albums nor indeed any of the material thus far released in its new guise. Still comparisons are drawn to Misfits/Samhain/Danzig in the accompanying promotional material, so I came into this third Death Wolf imagining something along the lines of that previously mentioned ‘The Howling’ EP. Thematically however, Östergötland (a southern Swedish province steeped in history) seems to be as removed as you can get from 2000’s tales of werewolves etc.
From opener ‘Sea Wolf’, the music is nothing like the Misfits shtick of that first Devil’s Whorehouse EP. Granted, it’s been fourteen years since then but the icy guitars, metallic bass and especially the echoing, rasping voice here are black metal. Vocalist Maelstrom sounds nothing like early ’80s Danzig and the general vibe is far more serious and sinister than what I expected. Building on the opener’s driving, groove-orientated blackness is ‘Thorntree’, with thick pulsating riffs and bass work propelled by a cool and emphatic ride pattern. As the record hits its stride, two things stick out. First is a pervasive sense of melancholy which haunts the majority of the material. On ‘Östergötland’ itself, we encounter a depressive equivalent to Marduk’s ‘As a Garment’, human emotion and epicness colliding variously together. And later, in the brilliant ‘1658’, further comparisons to Håkansson’s main band (or its past) can be heard through the bass work which clambers majestically over the other instruments a la B-War to moving effect. The second point of interest is just how much of the intimidating, persistent guitar work echoes Marduk at their less incendiary.
On the other hand, there are a few nods to what inspired this band to be. Numbers such as ‘Wall of Shields’ and ‘Black Sunlight’ – which appear at opposite ends of the disc – contain drum work not dissimilar to ‘Earth AD’ in their brief, chaotic existences. Likewise, though in an entirely different sense, ‘Today King, Tomorrow Dead’ is musically indebted to Danzig’s solo work. Crucially, Maelstrom puts his own vocal stamp on the brooding, arrogant composition rather than contrive to be like Danzig. I suppose the juxtaposition of these tracks alone gives an indication as to the diversity found on ‘Östergötland’, and it’s interesting alone to hear Morgan Håkansson playing a melodic lead. But at the end of the day, ‘III: Östergötland’ is a black metal album. On top of the general aura which backs up this claim are individual instances that are nothing but fine examples of the genre. The heaving ‘Seeds of Blood’ – aside from an unimpressive midpoint – ploughs hypnotically along like Gorgoroth minus the eccentric vocals. ‘Carrion Lord’ is another decent stab of heavy, melancholic black metal, while ‘Vikbolandet’ has ‘Hammerheart’ written all over it.
Ultimately, it’s a disservice to Death Wolf for those Danzig related comparisons to continue popping up. The general musical style on here is perfectly fine and distinct without all that, and the lyrics certainly don’t follow the somewhat superficial Misfits worship of the Devils Whorehouse debut. ‘III: Östergötland’ won’t be everyone’s chalice of tea – possibly too slow or just another black metal band – but if you can appreciate dark music which flows over you, it’s definitely worth checking out. While admittedly there are patches that seem almost interchangeable, the album is a grower which provides quite the soundtrack to these cold winter nights…