Alpha Wolf – a quiet place to die


Artist

Album

a quiet place to die

Label

Greyscale/SharpTone

Year

2020

For Fans Of

Emmure, Sworn In, Bury Your Dead.

Summary

Bonafide pack leaders.

Rating

80 / 100

‘a quiet place to die’ was originally released on September 25th, 2020. 



With artwork that looks like a dope Yu-Gi-Oh card, ‘a quiet place to die‘ is the best Alpha Wolf release full-stop. I said what I said! Their debut album, ‘Mono‘ (2017), looks as such by comparison: one-dimensional. More so than any other release of Alpha Wolf’s, their second LP feels genuinely collaborative. It’s not just guitarist Sabian Lynch and whichever vocalist the band have had at any given time pushing everything along; it’s clear these 11 new cuts have had all five members put a firm hand into its creation. Everyone in Alpha Wolf had their own personal say in how these songs went – from the drumming chops of Mitchell Fogarty to the well-placed backing-barks of bassist Jon Arnold, Sabian and Scottie Simpson’s guitar riff and tonal interplay, to the aggro vocal timbre of Lochie Keogh – and it makes for their most cohesive body of work yet.

When anyone thinks of Alpha Wolf, they immediately think of a select few certain truths: dissonant chord progressions, pulverising breakdowns, crunchy riffs, sars-masks, heaps of attitude, and lyrics expressing feelings of bitterness, sorrow and angst. All of this is true here, yet it’s all been pushed to that next extreme without once sacrificing impact nor authenticity. That’s, really, the perfect way to describe ‘a quiet place to die‘. It’s the Alpha Wolf you know, pushed all the way into the red.

Obviously, Alpha Wolf aren’t anything unique or original. But that’s never been their intent; they aren’t trying to be some new breed of metal. They know precisely what they’re doing, who they’re pulling from, and what they’re aiming to accomplish. (That isn’t to say they haven’t tried some new things, which I’ll get to.) The key defining difference is that they’re fucking nailing it! That shouldn’t go understated. For when it comes to this bloodthirsty, nu-metal-influenced new-age of metalcore, this is the best I’ve heard it done over the last few heavily saturated years. This is a scene and a sub-genre that’s crowded with pretenders, but these Melbourne dogs have become proper pack leaders with this honest, hateful and hectic record. Sitting them right next to their personal heroes in Emmure.

Before we go any further, I’m going to get a couple of observations and nitpicks I have with ‘a quiet place to die‘ out of the way now. So if the review was to be plotted out on a graph, it would start out low and then rise quickly and highly in praise as it goes on. Hopefully stopping those weirdos who say I’m too mean because I didn’t give their favourite bands new album a perfect score from commenting.

First, albums like this aren’t going to score over an eighty from me, not at this stage in my life and listening tastes. As mentioned, this is an Alpha Wolf record, with all of the nu-metal i’s dotted and metalcore t’s crossed. It’s a fucking great iteration of that sound but inspired this is not. Call a spade a spade, after all. Secondly, while I don’t think anyone could realistically say this album isn’t polished or that it’s not punchy in terms of its mix or the tones used, Sabian and Scottie really overuse the same kind of repetitive djenty, lo-fi guitar phrasings, namely when one or the other is using such riffs to join one section to another or when they’re about to usher in another head-caving breakdown on top of your dumbass. It’s functional, and it’s not bad, just a major observation I had upon my very first listen of this record when it came out. Thirdly, the opening title song is the weakest of the lot. So much so that I sometimes even forget that it’s apart of this LP. It’s a statement of intent, telling all ye who enter what kind of experience to expect on the coming songs, and I’ve heard far worse for this style, but that first song doesn’t do anything for me. I actually wish things began on the second song instead, ‘Creep.’ Speaking of…

Creep‘ isn’t just one of Alpha Wolf’s best songs, it’s one of my favourite songs from 2020. The rapid, displaced drum grooves, mixed with the song’s lyrical venom and overwhelmingly riffy aggression has it all go down so smoothly. Yet what makes it work for me, what makes it really tick, is what this cold-blooded track has to say. It’s a call-out to the hypocrites in heavy music: those who will ditch their values and ethics at the drop of a hat so they can advance their own status by supporting bands with members marred by controversies and/or allegations. It’s just what Lochie spits in the second verse that he’d “rather die a pariah than live an acolyte.” Merely look at how many people rode the coattails of Dealer or As I Lay Dying. For some, it’s just business, and for others, they just don’t give a fuck. But Alpha Wolf gives a fuck and them writing a song like ‘Creep‘ is a point of growth; of them owning their own skeletons in a way. As they themselves originally stood behind their old vocalist when everything came out in late 2017. But that was then, and this is now, and they’re making it abundantly clear that they will not stand for those transgressions. When songs like ‘Creep‘ have something to actually say, a conviction to stand behind, that’s when hardcore and metalcore of this nature is exceptionally special.

And hey, let’s once again appreciate this blunt-as-hell but hard as fuck lyric:

“So what’s the price for a counterfeit soul? An opportunity to play some fucking 1’s and 0’s. Metalcore snitches. I’m not religious but I know a double cross when I see one.”

Of the band’s ‘Golden Fate‘ trilogy (thus far), the newest entry, ‘Isolate‘ is top dawg. It’s a great third act and a track stuck in the second stage of grief – anger. It’s a bitter song without any closure for someone who tragically took their own life yet never said goodbye. No metaphors, just the band calling it how it is: “you took your own damned life” and “Where was my fucking goodbye?” It is a selfish song, and the band know this, yet that’s what makes it so dark. But that’s why people come to this band, for those brutally raw sentiments about loss, mental health, and relationships. Add in how goddamn jumpy and staccato-driven this belter is, and you’ve got a groovy and dissonant-bathed piece that ain’t no beta. I don’t care who you are or what you like, that gnarly wasp-like buzzing guitar tone halfway through is tough as shit! (They also lyrically throw in a reference to Ryuk from Death Note, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this song had the working title of Shinigami.)

The hurried, lethal and discordant banger that is the villainous ‘Akudama‘ still carries with it the best pit-call of 2020. That “A-KU-DA-MA-HOOO” line at 1:11 is a fucking war cry and a half. Just you watch as that part goes off its collective head whenever tours start happening again. For that’s when the “victory” of this song will be made its clearest: that this band isn’t going anywhere; that they will fight for their right to play and exist. Elsewhere, ‘Acid Romance‘ is a riff-laden and pummeling emotive poem of love that withered and died. A prime song that shows off some glitchy vinyl scratching, caustic screams, loaded gun samples (this is metalcore we’re talking about), bending riffs, and a horrifying feeling of “what have I done?” as various issues eat away at a once-solid relationship like dissolving acid.

bleed 4 you‘ shows more melody and gloom entering into Alpha’s sound for the first time since ‘Mono‘ but to a much stronger and palpable degree. It sees Lizi Blanco from The Beautiful Monument guest featuring vocally to add a whole other layer and dynamic to proceedings, nicely complimenting Lochie’s longing screams and the song’s differing perspectives of two lovers who will never be. It’s the tragedy of meeting the right person at the wrong time, and you sense that ingrained firmly into this track’s DNA, in its tension and unresolved nature. Like a phone ringing but never answered. It’s also the taste-tester of the band trying to do slightly new things on LP2, and I’m about it. I’d even call on them to keep going with ideas like this and get really funky with it in the future. Everyone agrees that Alpha Wolf’s music predominantly focuses on being balls-out heavy, but if anyone was to suggest that they can ONLY be those things, I’d ask them to wrinkle up their smoothbrain takes. As songs like ‘bleed 4 you‘ and later on ‘Don’t Ask…‘ are proof that when they shift the formula, great things can happen.

Hitting hard at a slightly lower tuning than its track-listing peers, the band weren’t kidding when they said that ‘Rot In Pieces‘ was one of their heaviest creations so far. Which seems fitting, given the stupidly aggressive nature of the song digging a knife in deeper to match the lyrics of disgust that target an absent family member. It’s about running away, broken homes, and wishing for no eulogies; an openly expressed feeling of revolt due to sharing the “Eldritch blood” with someone you despise, and how it rots you from the inside. It’s a hammering metalcore track about numbness, rejection, feeling like a failure, and it’s a dizzying assault on the senses.

Ultra-Violet Violence‘ is another mean-as-fuck stand-out, feeling like it’s been lifting deadweights since before it was born; like it’s been smashing down Senzu beans pre-fight. And Jesus, that huge “unnerving; convulsing” pit-call and subsequent sub-drop breakdown is fat with a capital PH. But it’s also sad, too. Think about that title. Ultra-violet meaning beyond the visible light, something you cannot see, and when you look at the lyrics and how the song is spelling out the frustration and pain of watching someone you love suffering from Epileptic seizures, suddenly it takes on a whole other feeling. This is what I was saying before about ‘Creep‘; the surface level of the performances and songwriting on this album are both sick, but when you scratch away the top layer, there reside the true meanings. There’s style but also substance in what these songs are and what they mean, and I love that.

Simply put, the blast beats that Mitchell unleashes in ‘The Mind Bends To A Will Of Its Own‘ could threaten the safety of people’s necks. But on a more a serious note, ‘The Mind Bends To A Will Of Its Own‘ is exactly what that name suggests: how chronic depression can distort our reality, how we perceive others, and most importantly, how it makes us think of our own selves. No matter how hard we fight against that. It’s not some authoritarian take on the issue of mental illness, but is a personal takeaway about not feeling like it’ll get any better, that it’s hard to grapple with a “migraine like a freight train“; that hell starts to feel like home after a while.

Restricted (R18+)‘ is easily their most vitriolic song, wishing for someone else to suffer to the same extent that they made others hurt, leaving off with a brutal statement: “If I were you, I’d wanna kill myself too.” ‘Restricted (R18+)‘ is a genuine call-out and a downright filthy one at that. It’s a flipping of the tables, turning predators into prey, wanting to make them feel the same fear and pain that they have so grossly inflicted on those that survive them. It’s revenge, plain and simple, without room for forgiveness. The only thing that comes close to the vocal and lyrical vitriol is the racey instrumentals that serve to make ‘Restricted (R18+)‘ cut even deeper. It’s extremely dark, but also extremely real.

And now we reach the end. If you’ll recall a millennia ago when I mentioned this track earlier in the review, swan song ‘Don’t Ask…‘ is another slight shift in the Alpha Wolf formula, like ‘bleed 4 you‘ also was. This closer is a more melodic, uplifting track in its chords and voicing and having it conclude the album was a terrific choice. It’s like a silver-lining for what has been such a grim record. That things will one day be okay; that we all deal with our own shit in our own ways; that you can and will push through for your loved ones, and for those who aren’t with us anymore. It’s honestly the perfect ending for an album like ‘a quiet place to die.’

Conclusion

Alpha Wolf are anything but carrion on their fantastic second album. Even if this was somehow the end of the road for the Aussie act, they sure as shit weren’t quiet about going off into that good night. ‘a quiet place to die’ isn’t just Alpha Wolf’s best release, it’s one of the finest Australian releases for heavy music in 2020. ‘a loud place to live’ dethrones their previous best release in my eyes, 2019’s ‘Fault‘ EP, and stands atop a corpse pile of other carbon-copied records and initiating bands attempting this same sound. This is a cold-blooded expression of frustration, rage, and bitterness, carrying a massive chip on it’s creators sturdy shoulders. Alpha’s latest drags real pain, tough topics, ugly memories, and uncomfortable experiences alike out under the cover of an exposing naked light to address it all head on. There’s no rest for the wicked, let alone for the new pack-leaders for this style of heavy music in not only Australia but the world.

Tracklisting

a quiet place to die

Creep

Golden Fate; Isolate

Akudama

Acid Romance

Rot In Pieces

bleed 4 you

Ultra-Violet Violence

The Mind Bends To A Will Of It’s Own

Restricted (R18+)

Don’t Ask…

‘a quiet place to die’ was originally released September 25th, 2020:

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