Review: Orange Goblin – The Wolf Bites Back

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With an origin in UK 1995, Orange Goblin have been plugging away in the rock underground for some time now. Their relentless dedication to quality albums and constant touring have given them a honed and refined knowledge of their craft, and this is apparent from the get-go on their latest effort ‘The Wolf Bites Back’.

‘Sons of Salem’ kicks right off with raspy vocals and straight-up doom/stoner metal riffs straight out of their own back catalogue and Black Sabbaths’ textbook. The roar of ‘Rising from the grave’ during a speedy, punky mid-section shows a bunch of blokes pushing much faster than their old material allowed, albeit still with that classic Kyuss-style bluesy soloing and riffage. ‘Rise up, sons of Salem!’ is the yell that rings this number out in energetic, rocking style.

Title track ‘The Wolf Bites Back’ begins with a forlorn, simple acoustic riff and pulsing bass. Launching into evil classic metal style riffs, these bounce back and forward over solid thumping bass and drums. Husky growls of ‘By night the predators arise’, lyrically and vocally feel like a less falsetto early Iron Maiden. Imagery of prowling a cemetery at night. Chorus has a brief but aggressive attack, ripping back into the fast but plodding verse, announcing ‘Now the wolf is at your door!’ right back to blistering solos over the refrain of ‘The Wolf Bites Back!’

‘Renegade’ pulls it back a tad, with almost Western drawling bends over a very punky sixteenth-note drum and bass feel, soon running straight into husky hard rock with a danceable beat. Employing elements similar to Clutch, Orange Goblin bring a punkier and more up-tempo feel to their desert-tinged blues-rock, featuring a mid-section that again harkens back to classic metal with duelling and stop-start riffing and scale runs. It’s clear these guys are well-versed in pulling a myriad of riffs from the Encyclopedia of Rock (and to a lesser extent, Metal), complementing it with equally-metal lyrics such as ‘son of a preacher, turned to the dark!’ It’s all derivative of something else, but so well executed that bears no worry. An almost forlorn downturn towards the end keeps the pace up, but a more melancholic feel towards the end.

Starting up with a big bass riff and crashing drums, ‘Swords of Fire’ gives a small reprieve from the non-stop chugging and leads from before. Reminiscent of the slower, more downturned desert/stoner rock of their earlier catalogue, The Sword ironically comes to mind in this track. Rolling into a bigger bolder sound with some distortion around the mid-mark, towards the latter half the drums tumble and fumble alongside some sneery growls as though kicked down a staircase in a cavern. Three quarters in, they just can’t help themselves, and they’re back to their usual swagger, albeit with a very deep bass-heavy contrast. This is a band that absolutely can’t help being at least a few kilometres over the speed at the end, as the once-again classic metal feeling chanting outro demonstrates.

Again, ‘Ghosts of Primitives’ cautiously creeps in, dust on the boots with a very Southern slightly-distorted, semi-fried Cajun stoner riff. It isn’t long before the band unleash on their now-familiar brand of hard rock fury, this time with more urgent shouts and vocals about atheism, education, mysticism giving things a more cerebral tone. That doesn’t stop the sparking leads, rumbling bass and steady fast drums keeping things in a solid grooving shuffle. An almost tribal experimental little stop-start drum and bass riff and a warbly, strange little solo acts nicely to break up the usual rock fare.

Rolling out soaked in phasers, the song moves straight into the almost Eastern-sounding chromatic bass play of ‘In Bucco Al Lupo’. Contrasting duelling electric guitars with some nice acoustic chords, this little instrumental revolves around a nice couple of floaty, breezy blues guitar lines before drifting off with the breeze.

‘Suicide Division’, on the other hand, shakes the listener back onto the motorcycle and revs things straight away in a distortion-drenched punk-and-roll attack similar to that of the eternal Motorhead. Clocking in at about just the same amount of time, the sneering punk ethos acts as a counterpoint from the chilled instrumental just prior, ending in the same huff it rolled through the door in.

Now that your attention is fully fixated, ‘The Stranger’ begins with an almost country spoken word and jangling guitar intro section, showcasing yet another sub-genre change in a row. Super laidback and mostly a husky voiceover, it’s not until the two-minute mark that things kick right back in a rolling and rollicking crescendo of urgent dissonant chords, slowing back down to a soulfully roared section, backing down even further off the steppes to a classic blues solo. Things repeat along this meandering road for a bit, the addition of organs and the hypnotic refrain ‘stranger lost in time/stranger lost his mind’ a very catchy hook that stays with the listener quite some time afterward, a cruisy imprint on the psyche.

‘Burn the Ships’ drops back to the first half of the album’s staunchly rock-n-roll aesthetic, stomping up and down scales and tight fun rhythms. Featuring lyrics about the sociology of conditioning, we get a bit of a thoughtful lyrical treatment in between the four-to-the-floor blues and stoner rock. Gang shouted choruses lead back into more sultry bass riffs, floating in a sort of effects-laden no-man’s-land before the resolution back towards the chorus. It’s clear these guys are comfortable with inserting lyrical themes beyond just rockin’, rollin’ and drinkin’, which earns kudos in a genre obsessed with doing so.

‘Zeitgeist’ begins with a slow clean intro not unlike ‘Aerials’ by System of a Down, a pensive bassline joining in just in time for a sad-but-soulful solo over that dependable, large and exploratory drumming. The classic metal overtones show themselves once more, using diminished chords and higher-register vocals in a mix that provokes mental imagery of a man wandering the desert, pondering all manner of things in his ascetic voyage. The simple duelling leads, organ and drums give way to a zeitgeist of a shreddy solo (he said the thing!), before heading back to that considerate tone. Ending on a wah-pedal-heavy solo and rocking rhythm, the album is given a nice outro, resolving quietly and thoughtfully.

There you go, folks. 23 years of smashing out an endless stream of riffs has not only given Orange Goblin an air of authority over their lyrical and musical craft, but has allowed them to comfortably straddle a few genres as they see fit, rather than being pidgeonholed in the stoner den.

Order your copy of The Wolf Bites Back, out NOW via Spinefarm Records HERE!