Bad Wolves – N.A.T.I.O.N.
Release: October 25th, 2019
Tommy Vext – Vocals
Doc Coyle – Guitar
Chris Cain – Guitar
Kyle Konkiel – Bass
John Boecklin – Drums
Californian metal group Bad Wolves have always thrived when they balance pure aggression with a more melodic sound. The five-piece certainly prove this on the follow-up to their first record, N.A.T.I.O.N. Yet that’s ultimately the problem. While fully present on some tracks, that sound is absent from much of the album’s second half and although the closing song is a winner, it leaves a somewhat bittersweet taste.
Opening track ‘I’ll Be There’ immediately pulls you in with bombastic drumming and dissonant guitar, before singer Tommy Vext kicks into gear with rap-style vocals. With a catchy chorus, the opener is a strong one, hitting that sweet spot of heaviness mixed with melodies.
We then get to ‘No Messiah’, which slows things down. Vext’s clean vocals and poetic lyrical delivery come to the fore on this track, pairing well with cleaner guitar and soft piano in parts.
Third song ‘Learn To Walk Again’ opens with more distorted vocals from Vext and sharper drumming, transitioning seamlessly from the previous track. It’s elevated by the empowering message about not being the victim in a situation, and not being afraid of falling if it means coming back stronger.
Enter the first tinge of electronic on this record with ‘Killing Me Slowly’. With echoey vocals and minimal chugging guitar driving the verses, it’s a song reminiscent of the electro-rock vibes from Papa Roach‘s seventh album The Connection – and it works.
‘Better Off This Way’ slows things right down again with acoustic guitar, allowing the deep resonance in Vext’s vocals to shine. With the lyrics reflecting on a break-up, he invites you to feel a whole range of emotions, oscillating between pain, numbness, resignation and uncertainty about the future. It’s definitely one of the record’s more powerful emotional moments.
We descend into one of the release’s most crunching songs, ‘Foe Or Friend’, which hits you in the face with driving child-like chants and a huge drum sound from John Boecklin. It’s a tune that sounds much faster than it actually is. Vext brings his most relentless vocal delivery yet as he oscillates between screaming and spitting the lyrics, backed fully by devastating guitar interplay between Doc Coyle and Chris Cain.
Unfortunately, that’s when N.A.T.I.O.N starts to dip. ‘Sober’ offers a reprieve with its acoustic guitar and slower pace, backed by a clap beat. Yet there’s more of a pop overtone with the song, along with the following one ‘Back In The Days’, that makes them both less memorable.
Luckily, ‘The Consumerist’ brings the ferocity level back up in spades with industrial metal undertones. It’s the track on the record showing the greatest spectrum in Vext’s vocal range. Deep to mid cleans. Low bellows to piercing, high snarls. This one has it all. Bassist Kyle Konkiel adds substantial body to the song, particularly allowing it to shine in the verse moments when it’s primarily Konkiel and Vext.
However, the transition into the much less intense and more melodic ‘Heaven So Heartless’ feels slightly jarring, and the following track ‘Crying Game’ has a similar, repetitive quality.
Now for the the album closer ‘LA Song’. Ominous lead guitar wails before Vext launches into a powerful scream. The band kicks into real heaviness, including the vocalist as he rips his way through the verses. There’s a dynamic shift between his longer screams and short and sharp bursts, making them feel much more palpable. With the track being one of the most rhythmically complex, there’s also a great contrast between Vext’s more melodic vocals and that sinister guitar part underneath.
Further into the track, Vext takes on a more Mike Shinoda-style rap vocal, which builds in intensity as he confesses, ‘Cause I want to be a star / I want to kiss the sky / I can’t afford to record ’cause the rent’s too high.
The song simultaneously feels like both an ode and a hate letter to the band’s hometown of LA, and the emotional intensity matches the sonic aggression. It’s a worthy closer, but one that leaves confusion in its wake. Overall, N.A.T.I.O.N. has its stellar moments, but these are sustained inconsistently.
Bad Wolves – N.A.T.I.O.N tracklisting
1. I’ll Be There
2. No Messiah
3. Learn To Walk Again
4. Killing Me Slowly
5. Better Off This Way
6. Foe Or Friend
8. Back In The Days
9. The Consumerist
10. Heaven So Heartless
11. Crying Game
12. LA Song