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Wolf’s Law by The Joy Formidable – Album Review

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This is the first of new series of music reviews that will be featured on the site.  This premiere entry you are currently gazing upon was written by the talented AP Kryza.  AP is an editor at the Thrillist and has his finger on the pulse of music, culture and life in general.  

Welsh trio The Joy Formidable doesn’t compose songs so much as create intricate sonic sculptures: swelling, rollicking landscapes populated by catchy guitar riffs fired out with machine-gun precision overtop layer-upon-layer of orchestral sways, hammering drums and call-and-response vocals that swell increasingly until they burst.

It’s a sound that marked the group’s explosive debut, The Big Roar, but one that was unfortunately lost on the masses as songs like “Whirring” and “Austere” played endlessly on alt-rock radio over the past two years in truncated versions that cut the heft from what makes The Joy Formidable such an exhilarating group to experience. The songs, in their radio-friendly form, rightfully put guitarist and frontwoman Ritzy Bryan front and center, but the poppiness of those songs work exceptionally better when they’re allowed to go on, with Bryan’s fuzzy guitar plodded along by Rhydian Dafydd’s throbbing bass and Matt Thomas’ double-bass drumming adding to the mix like some misfit from a metal band who found peace and understanding in a power-rock group.

With Wolf’s Law, Joy Formidable more or less eschews the idea of making radio-friendly pop-rock anthems directly after its opening track, “This Ladder Is Ours,” which echoes “Whirring” in its infectious-as-crack hooks. This is The Joy Formidable as a prog-rock juggernaut, a group that has crafted stadium anthems customized for stadiums that have yet to be built. It’s a loud, cacophonous sound with enough discipline and pop sensibility to mold each track into a magnum opus, as if the dudes from Explosions in the Sky ditched the instrumentalism and crafted balladry designed with a clear sense of relaxed beginning, escalating middle, and soaring crescendo that demands to be heard at top volume.

The album’s 11 tracks represent a surprisingly concise musical odyssey, marked by driving and hard-hitting rock made all the more euphoric by Bryan’s spritely vocal stylings, which would seem equally at home in a standard pop song but here lend hard-hitting, chord-based rock a rather otherworldly feel. That ethereal feeling’s no better represented than on the epic “Maw Maw Song,” a hard-hitting opus that transitions between the modernism of Metric before slamming hard into a concrete wall seemingly forged by Zeppelin at their stomp-iest. It’s a suckerpunch of a song that seems at once to be rooted in the classic rock past but somehow lives in the digital age.

As with any record, there are inevitable lulls, which here manifest in “Silent Treatment,” a track that brings the electric and bombastic sounds of predecessors like “Cholla” and “Little Blimp” to a screeching halt as Bryan croons “I’ll take the easy cynicism, less talking, more reason” in a low-key, sleepy number that sounds like a Fleetwood Mac reject that jackknife’s the record’s momentum.

It’s a temporary detour, though, on an album that sees the band culling all its strengths and reaching brave new ground. It’s all front and center (and in the background, for that matter) on the record’s closing track, “The Turnaround.” Here, everything comes to the fore on a nine-minute piece that starts with swelling strings and builds and builds to stratospheric heights, with Bryan howling over increasingly agitated-sounding guitars and strings stabbing relentlessly in a manner that recalls Bernard Herrmann’s classic Psycho score… building and building until the final, penultimate crash leaves you breathless and wanting more. If this sophomore release is any indication, the band should keep breaking molds until taking its rightful place among the ear-shattering greats.


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