Leatherwolf have always been a metal mystery to me, experiencing quite a rise and fall over the last two decades. I took a chance on them in the late '80s, after hearing them on a local radio station in San Diego, and instantly I was hooked. Their magical, iconic street ready vibe was very appealing. They were an atypical metal outfit with three guitarists who played with ritual tension, abiding spirit, and a crunchy bite. Their mettle, music, and namesake meant metal; but their image would cry out - glam. They are also the only band I know who released back to back self titled albums. The independent release on Tropical Records, suffered from shoddy, thin production; yet burned with blazing riffs and vicarious vocals by Michael Olivieri.
Once they signed to Island Records and released the follow up, Leatherwolf had found their ideal calling. Unfortunately, the corporate conditioned album artwork depicted the heavily hairsprayed quintet on the cover; whereas, their earlier release envisioned an animated vicious wolf on the prowl. All this confusion eventually led to several metal heads dismissing the band, as more California riff raff; when in essence, Leatherwolf were true riff craft. I relished this Island release, as every song penned by the gypsies and thieves stole my thunder. I especially savoured their wickedly weighed cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Rising, popularized in the movie An American Werewolf In London. Their next major label release also proved noteworthy with some off the track railing and ripping guitar spikes like Wicked Ways, Take A Chance, and Black Knight; all of which proved that Leatherwolf could kill and kill again! Then sadly, grunge became too dominant and Leatherwolf, like so many great artists , became another endangered species.
Then, a few years ago Leatherwolf reunited and released a live album and several promising demos. Disheartenly, their assiduous lead vocalist Michael Olivieri derailed, leaving founding members guitarist Geoff Gayer and drummer Dean Roberts to carry on the mission.. Then, when they hired Jeff Martin from Racer X to sing and play guitar, the tools of discipline were in place, and in 2004 an awesome demo was recorded, laying the solid ground work for what would become their first studio release in 17 years. Unfortunately, Jeff also became disconnected , unable to share in the dream, so Wade Black was recruited to record the new album. Finally World Asylum was unleashed in 2006.
The classic triple axe attack and vagrant vocals of the rhyming piper Mr. Olivieri have faded, for this is a newly resuscitated wolf in tanned hide, away from the seasoned spite, which older Leatherwolf personified. Dean and Geoff wrote the whole album themselves and mixed it in Denmark. Dean desparately strove for a tight drum sound, which I feel he has achieved; ensnaring us with his wicked drum kitsche. Geoff claims to have accidentally melted his Mesaboogie amp while shredding on his Jackson guitar; in order to recreate that killer leatherwolf piercing chomp .
The result is ten tenuously lethal woofer anthems, combining their lonely rogue sound with a bevy of newer influences. On the one hand there are absolute scorchers like Live Or Die, Behind The Gun, Derailed, or the blazing uncanny opener I Am The Law, which emphasize grilling guitar solos and battling axes. On the other, there are some more commercial offerings like King Of The Ward, Dr. Wicked, or Institutions which allude to the World Asylum. These songs remind me too much of Alice In Chains' earlier work. Wade Black even sings like Layne Staley or even John Corabi. He does not sound like he did when he sang with Seven Witches or even Crimson Glory. Perhaps, his vocals are tailored to the musical variations. I don't feel Wade Black was the best vocal choice for this type of never aging metal. This point is moot, as he too has exited the band, recently. Perhaps, they will reinstitute Michael, who could really do justice to these prime lawless suites, live.
Leatherwolf 2006 sound like a blend of Skid Row, Lillian Axe, or even the under appreciated Heaven's Edge, beckoning Annihilator. While recording in Denmark, Geoff resided in a hotel which used to be a city jail in the 1800's. There he stayed in the warden's chamber, and just across the street was a church, symbolizing freedom. This contrast of dark and light set the paradigm musically and lyrically for the theme behind World Asylym. Overall, Leatherwolf are 100% classic metal with their now supergroup status. James Rivera's guitar choice - Eric Halpern - from Destiny's End and Distant Thunder serves as Geoff's guitar spar partner and the duelling licks and kicking solos appear in multitude throughout the CD. Pete Perez from Riot plays bass and continues that pronounced classic metal feel. The production is tight and crisp. All the songs pervade with an infectious vibe, even if some infected cuts take a few listens to heal.
I really miss Michael's cryptic echoing vocals and that
epic passion, Leatherwolf once represented. This being said, this is
a great release, which should satisy any fan of traditional metal, and
it is worth checking out. Rise or fall...live or die - Leatherwolf still
sound the distant chant of thunder and rule the blackest night.