Now the followup, Fain, is here, and I met it with severe anticipation and more than a tiny bit of anxiety. Could Wolf People—a band that I'll easily rank at the top of my favorite new groups of the past few years—deliver another record as good as the majestic Steeple? Even half as good would be enough. But after spending plenty of time with a pre-release copy of Fain, I feel confident in asserting two things: (1) The album is nothing if not a grower, and requires a few listens to fully plumb its depths, and (2) Fain is every bit as good as Steeple, and welcomely shows the band embracing a natural growth, finding its individuality among its overt and at times indelible influences.
From a production standpoint, Fain is dipped in distorted fuzz, muscular riffs, swinging drums, and a battle-charged, epic approach to sound while remaining crisp and clean in the speakers—no washed out echo or never-ending delays here; in fact, I don't notice any blatant production trickery of any kind. It sounds more or less like the band set up in the house and recorded themselves pretty plainly. Still, the result is entirely lost-in-time, like it could have come from the future, or even been beamed from a thousand years ago (provided they had amplifiers and microphones back then).
Unsurprisingly, the best tracks are the longest ones, when Wolf People allow themselves to spread out over six or seven minutes of carefully laid, thoughtfully composed music (there are guitar solos, to be sure, but at no point is there vamping, or even any evident jamming). At seven minutes, the brilliant "Thief" still feels far too short, with a loping riff that will put a vast grin on the smile of any Sabbath fan. "When the Fire Is Dead in the Grate" and "Hesperus" (these song titles! They're like chapters of a mildewy, chunky-paged adventure book your grandfather passed down) are also magnificent, utilizing drama and dynamics with perhaps more skill than any contemporary artist I can think of. These songs are not so much composed as designed, with careful architecture and restraint. Perhaps the only track that initially falls short is the opener, "Empty Vessels," which is the most different sounding thing the band has done, using a more modern guitar sound and a restless beat that sounds fidgety rather than emphatic. But even this track reveals its excellence after a few listens.
What's most miraculous with Fain is how Wolf People find a very specific, very unique niche that touches on metal, folk, and hard rock (territory that could be categorized as over-utilized, certainly), but never fully dives into any one of those styles, instead finding an uncommon sound that I'll venture has no obvious match. It's a very English, very accessible sound, and one suspects that if this were the early '70s Wolf People would be playing arenas with Deep Purple. As it stands, the band still has never played a US show to my knowledge (correct me if I'm wrong?) and currently there is no tour of the States planned following Fain's release. This needs to be rectified; with Steeple and now Fain, it's evident to me that Wolf People are one of the best bands on the planet, rock or otherwise.
Wolf People's Fain comes out today on Jagjaguwar, and it is awesome.