I once opined on these humble pages that Motörhead didn’t do bad albums, merely good ones and great ones, and it has to be said that this proud epithet should also be bestowed upon the filthy and the few that make up Orange Goblin. It has been some twenty-one years since their debut, the still worthy Frequencies From Planet Ten (Rise Above), and for the ninth time the turbo effalunt has been charged up, the band are getting high on the bad times, and the red tide rises once more.
But before we examine this latest offering, let’s back it up a few years. To 2012, to be exact, as a full force, fresh out of hiatus, Goblin smacked the rock world round the chops with the straight-up classic Eulogy For The Damned (Candlelight); a mighty album that stood its ground, swung its punches, drank its beer and banged its head in a most delightful way. And for many, this opus stands as the epitome of what they think Orange Goblin is and does and should do.
The Wolf Bites Back (Candlelight/Spinefarm) challenges that assumption, and while it may not be the Orange Goblin album you think it’s going to be… it isn’t that album in a (very) good way.
Oh, sure, there’s the wolfpack-attack of the racing pounding uptempo groove of ‘Sons of Salem’, its suckerpunching cousin of the title track and the slap of ‘Renegade’ to complete an opening gambit that gives you exactly what you want and expect right out of the traps, but it isn’t long before the Goblin start taking you down some interesting alleyways… some of them darker than you might expect…
As what happens over the course of The Wolf’s ten tracks is that Orange Goblin open up their experimental side and indulge in some interesting investigation and exposition as to what they possess in their arsenal, deconstructing their usual song structures at times (the Doomier crush of ‘Swords of Fire’ in particular), adding ZZ Top slink at others (‘Ghosts of The Primitives’). It’s valid to mention Motörhead again, too, as, while Goblin have always had a bluesy soul, the warm production of Jaime Gomez Arellano has shone a light on the licks and tricks of underrated guitarist Joe Hoare, whose tones and stylings and rhythm chops throwback to some of the classic late seventies ‘head-isms, to grin-inducing effect – what we’re talking here is the bluesy side of Motörhead, the shake and Rock n’ Roll that often gets overlooked amongst the barrage.
In addition, the modern-day clean living of vocalist Ben Ward is paying dividends in his strongest recorded performance to date, showing newer sides to his game as he too epitomises the depth and multiplicity, changing and matching his vocals to the widening array of music on display, one minute barking over the Hardcore punk of ‘Suicide Division’, the next drawling on the bastardised wild-west country blues tale of ‘The Stranger’, all the while mixing up and anchoring things with his distinctive gravel tones.
The Wolf Bites Back may be a defiant title, but it is rightly so in its intent and statement, because this is a defiant album; defiant in its insistence on doing something different. The safe route is to do what was expected, but even better is that while the Wolf may be biting back, it is doing so in a multitude of interesting, devious, unexpected and most pleasing ways.