WolfpakkAh, Wolfpakk, so we meet again…and my, what big teeth you have! I had the honour of reviewing their previous outing “Cry Wolf” in 2013, which on the whole was very good (if I ignore the Michael Bolton meets Disney style Ballad which maybe I was rather harsh about at the time…but now I recall it, maybe not…shudder…), so it was unanimously voted that yours truly reviewed this one too. So I was, ahem, thrown to the wolves once more…

Wolfpakk, to briefly re-inform everyone, is the project masterminded and written by highly respected Melodic Metal Maestros Mark Sweeney and Michael Voss. As if their contribution to this genre wasn’t impressive enough with their respective bands, Wolfpakk is unleashed every year or two to encourage guests to perform with them on their self-penned tunes. And once more, what a guest list! Briefly (or as briefly as I can be with such a list…), on Vocals we have Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Andi Deris (Helloween), Ted Poley (Danger Danger), Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Rainbow/Deep Purple), Rick Altzi (Masterplan), David Reece (ex-Accept), Charlie Huhn (Foghat, ex-Gary Moore), Don Dokken (Dokken), Marc Storace (Krokus) + two new names to me, Michaela Schober and Jean-Marc Viller (Callaway). Bass is provided by Bob Daisley (ex-Black Sabbath/Ozzy/Gary Moore), Al Barrow (Magnum) and Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian). Michael Voss does much of the guitar once more, ably assisted by Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), Ryan Roxie (Alice Cooper), Bernie Torme (Ozzy/Torme), John Norum (Europe), Doug Aldrich (ex-Whitesnake/Dio/Foreigner), Axel Rudi Pell and Martin Rauber. Drumming powerhouse Mike Terrana (Too long a list to attempt…) stamps his trademark on many of the tracks along with Mark Schulman (Billy Idol, Foreigner), Simon Philips (ex-Toto), Chris Slade (ex-AC/DC) and Gereon Homann. Additional Keyboard intricacies are courtesy of Chris Ivo (Jaded Heart) and Pablo Allen (Skiltron; Dudelsack). Every performer’s contribution is enhanced by an excellent production job.

Last time around I rather spoiled the potential listener’s fun by doing a track-by-track analysis and naming who performs on which song, so this time I won’t (just to be different), though I will say that every singer on this album is absolutely at the top of their game. Sometimes with these type of projects there can be a bit of a “turn up, do your thing and down the pub” attitude, but once again Voss/Sweeney have written songs and got the perfect singer for each track (alongside their own faultless vocal contributions of course). Take opener ‘Rider Of The Storm’ – a great little lead riff, double kick-drums follow with galloping guitars and as you scan the vocalists present, one name leaps out (I just can’t resist – Spoiler Alert!), Andi Deris! This track is as good as anything Helloween have done in the last 15 years and that seems to be the key – It’s like Voss and Sweeney have looked at these singers, listened to their bands and written songs that show them off at their finest.

But this isn’t a tribute or homage to any other band (there’s far too many tenuous lyrical references to all things Wolfy for that…), and there will always be comparisons (‘Somewhere Beyond’ is very much Gamma Ray crossed with Masterplan for instance), but what we have here is a bit of a Melodic Metal masterclass. An album that, put bluntly, if you have an interest at all in any of the people listed above in this review, there will be something on here that you will love…and then the rest of it will soon pin you down and have it’s teeth at your throat (hey, this Lupine lunacy is catching…!). At the moment my personal favourite is ‘Running Out Of Time’. It’s just classic Metal really, but with a fantastic riff, fabulous chorus, a great bass/drum line and…everything just totally gels from start to finish. But this is an album that makes it difficult to pick a favourite. It will appeal to new fans of the genre, as well as Metal-geeks like me who can sit there going “hey, that’s Kiske…there’s Mark Storace…I’m sure that’s Dokken…and isn’t that Joe Lynn Turner” (who, can I just say, I haven’t heard sound quite this invigorated in many a year – a great performance). OK, some of the lyrics are a little questionable at times (like ‘Sock It To Me’ for example), but I get the feeling it’s all a bit ‘fang-in-cheek’ at times, and they seem to suit the individual song styles that they are written for. I mean, ‘Highlands’, is very Scottish, obviously – it has a Highland jig section scattered throughout, which could be very cringe-worthy and yet Wolfpakk still manage to pull it off. I’m not a fan of Bagpipes at all (a distant Burns Night incident that I still may have to work through in therapy…), but the jaunty light-hearted feel of the track even had me thinking it would be a shame if there were no Bagpipes. And there are…but luckily right at the end…

But what about the ballad? There was always going to be one wasn’t there? Looming like a big, bad…err…well, Wolf, obviously. They save it until last. It’s called ‘Universe’. It was all going so well…then, it all got just a little bit better! It’s a full-on Metal epic! The chorus is HUGE, the lead guitar solo sublime, the vocals heartfelt – it couldn’t be less Disney! What can I say? After my criticisms last time, I have been silenced. Gobsmacked even. Therefore I really have nothing more to add. If you like the idea of this album and any of the names therein, then what are you waiting for? Quite simply, top class Melodic/Power Metal, written by professionals and performed by experts in their field. Great stuff.

(8/10  Andy Barker)