Probably their most famous album for the most wrong reasons. The original cover artwork, showing a crudely-sketched baboon / werewolf, with crows for fingers, was featured in a bunch of blogs; worst album covers, the top “so bad it’s good” covers, most cult cover artworks etc. Most people leave it at that, thinking the music of the album is of equal quality.
The truth is that the album is actually very, very good. It’s a study (in 1999) on Iron Maiden crossed with Mercyful Fate with hints from Judas Priest. All these, usually boosted to speed metal tempos with a touch of steel to top it off. The sound production is wonderful, nothing crude there – the sound is (also) based on Iron Maiden, handled by Peter Tagtren, known from Hypocrisy, etc.
Iron Maiden (Powerslave era) definitely has a dominant role here, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear them decribed as a marginally clone band. There are indeed some obvious parts that could evoke the word “theft”. However, such a judgment would be both frivolous and unfair. True, their love for Maiden cannot be hidden but on the other hand, there are the aforementioned elements (MF, Speed) and of course the voice of mastermind Niklas (timid still but fine) that gives them an identity as a band, which will slowly solidify in their own style on their next releases. Of greater importance though, is the songwriting itself which may borrow Steve Harris patents as discretely as Kai Hansen borrows Judas Priest riffs, but it also demonstrates superb riffs and songs so that you would have to be considerably spiteful (or lazy) to hold that against them. Especially if you consider that during that time, Iron Maiden themselves weren’t exactly at their most spectacular. Or, if you will allow me a bit of sensationalism, if instead of Wicker Man (I’m not even talking about their two previous albums), which was released a year after Wolf, they had released Parasite or Desert Caravan, there would have been mass hysteria. But since that kind of reasoning might irritate some people, let’s just say that for the disappointed fans of 1998/Virtual XI, this would have been an outburst of bliss. To finish with the subject of “heavily influenced by Maiden”, Wolf demonstrates more character than Savage Circus or even Stormwarrior (I’m not talking about cases like Monument). In my humble opinion Wolf is far more superior in quality compared to the aforementioned, whom, it should be noted, I actually like.
Anyway, the above paragraph concludes the negative arguments that someone may come up with. Back to the essence of the matter, the content of the album that is, we’re talking about awesome speed/heavy metal, which culminates in songs like my favorite, Mercyful-Fate-on-speed, Moonlight. Another personal favorite is Electric Raga, showcasing a fine, colourful sitar-intro and my beloved Eastern flavor.
How about steel and Speed, with a time duration of a crossover band? In the Shadow of Steel, the rocket that opens the album and ends after a minute and a half. And of course, the Maiden-influenced epics with some little surprises thrown for good measure, like Parasite (top), Desert Caravan, Voyage and Sentinel. The epic conclusion is (it takes off after the bridge I find) In the Eyes of the Sun.
Awesome Album. Even if you do blame them for borrowing heavily from Maiden, you can’t deny that the songwriting and the level of performance is very high. If you see past that, are attracted by speed and of course that King Diamond flavor, well, it’s a one way street. For me it’s a comfortable 8/10, with some 9-scoring songs. Even so, this killer album is one of their weakest releases and this only because of the excessive references to Maiden and Niklas’ vocal timidity.
What I’d like to listen to live: Moonlight, In the Shadow of Steel, Electric Raga