Review Summary: The Norwegian quartet adroitly integrate post-hardcore with tenebrous atmospherics on their second album.
Following a record that set out an impressive stall isn’t easy. Late Love
was an invigorating debut that saw Oslo-based Wolves Like Us delving into dark post-hardcore with massive riffs, angular melodies and commendable tightness. It effectively revived the spirit of such acclaimed 1990s collectives as Quicksand and Drive Like Jehu, ditching the trends that have subverted the genre in the last 15 years. Black Soul Choir
manages to sidestep the dreaded second album slump by expanding the quartet's winning formula. The skeleton of the tracks still revolves around traditional post-hardcore attributes like throbbing bass lines and frenetic drum-beats, yet the focus is shifted towards atmospheric soundscapes that make the group's brand of post-hardcore even more brooding. This shift also informs a more expansive approach to songwriting. The tracks usually take more time to unravel, which makes for a significantly more nuanced and moodier effort.
Setting down a strong rhythmic foundation is bassist Torgeir Kjeldaas and drummer Jonas Thire, and their complimentary interplay enables guitarist Espen Helvig to utilize a large variety of textures around deep grooves including punchy lead riffs, dreamy passages and dissonant solos. Even though the musicianship is rock-solid, frontman Larsh Kristensen remains the quartet's greatest asset as his gruff vocals lend the album its unique voice. The singer forms an emotional bond with the listener, delivering the performance that ranges from muscular to vulnerable. He also has an uncanny knack for crafting powerful vocal hooks that hardly ever fail to resonate. His unabashedly personal lyrics, which focus on such themes as disbelief, failed relationships and depression, only enhance the authentic quality of the album.
Paradoxically, there is also a real freshness to the presentation of the outfit’s music, and the irresistible choruses of tracks like 'I Don't Need To Be Forgiven', 'Your Word Is Law' and 'Dig With Your Hands' have massive cross-over appeal. In particular, 'Dig With Your Hands' is an exceptionally dynamic number that swiftly shifts from engrossing shouted-out verses to a poignant chorus and an ingeniously crafted bridge. Alice In Chains-echoing balladry of 'Lovescared' provides a welcome moment of solace amid high-octane heavy rock cuts. Meanwhile, 'Thanatos Wins Again' is a monumental closer that's ingrained in oppressive doom metal. Treading a fine line between the genre's might and the gothic vibe of Paradise Lost, the epic ends the album on a genuinely unsettling note. Unfortunately, Black Soul Choir
is not as consistently excellent as the quartet's debut full-length, and there are several less inspired segments along the way. While the bland verses of 'Three Poisons' are partly rectified by the song's enticing refrain, the repetitive 'When Will We Ever Sleep?' seems totally underwritten despite its nimble guitar parts.
What links these tracks together, though, is the insidious darkness that permeates through the band’s output, just loitering beneath the surfaces, implicit regardless of whether Wolves Like Us are rolling at full tilt or holding back. Similarly to last year's staggering album of Coliseum, Black Soul Choir
balances all doom and gloom with sincerity and emotional undercurrents. The new outing from the Nordic rockers may not be as essential as Sister Faith
in the long run, but it certainly makes for a highly pleasurable set of darkly-tinged rock tunes.