You’ve got to hand it to The Joy Formidable: they’ve been incredibly busy over the past couple of years. Since the release of their last album, The Big Roar, this Welsh trio have been on David Letterman, opened for Muse and the Foo Fighters, played at Leeds and Reading both times, and toured the world in support of the album. They’ve gained recognition as one of the best live bands playing today. And yet, somehow, they’ve managed to write a whole new album on the road, laying the foundations for these songs on just a guitar or a piano, and turning them into huge alt-rock epics in the studio.
The album opens with a gorgeous string interlude that builds up to the first track, “This Ladder Is Ours”, a blistering song with one of the best riffs on the album—but nowhere near the heaviest. The Joy have admitted that they like their sound to incorporate a little metal now and then, and it shows: the bass and drums are truly a force to be reckoned with on this album. Songs like “Bats” are wildly discordant, and the album throws you time signature changes like there’s no tomorrow. But it never feels tired or contrite. The band always has something exciting hidden round the corner, ready to come at you and pummel you with its sheer energy.
Every time I listen to this album, there are things that I just love more and more about it. “Forest Serenade”, for example, is a glorious number, with a triumphant chorus and a well-deserved “let’s-drag-out-the-ending-for-as-long-as-possible” outro. The choir and orchestra featured on the album are given their due on “The Turnaround”, a beautiful, emotional closer that really could’ve done without the hidden title track tacked onto to the end of it. “Maw Maw Song” erupts into a crazy extended guitar jam, making incredible what was a great song anyway (The Joy are probably the only band in history that can make make cat noises—or whatever the hell ‘maw’ is—sound decidedly epic.)
But while the music is outstanding, the vocals do let it down sometimes. It’s especially notable on “Silent Treatment”, where the only accompaniment to Ritzy Bryan’s singing is a knock-off of “Heartbeats” as covered by José González, for once leaving Ritzy’s voice uncovered in the mix. It feels like her decision to double-track the vocals is the problem, since the breathy nuances of each take seem to clash with each other and make the result seem much sloppier than it should be. The overall production on the album is also a little frustrating, as its tinniness makes the orchestra and harp parts seem like cheap synths, and the band itself a lot quieter than they’ve been known to be.
It kind of reminds me of the “PLAY LOUD” disclaimers that used to come on old records, a disclaimer that should really come on this one too. Unfortunately, playing this record loud still doesn’t make up for its bad mixing. It really is a shame, since I’ve got very few complaints about the music itself. The band are often criticised for being a ‘big’-sounding arena rock band – but since when has that necessarily been a problem? Wolf’s Law is simply a great collection of pounding riffs and sprawling, panoramic songs. So plug in your headphones, turn up the volume, and enjoy this album for what it is.