Reviewing EPs can sometimes be a tad tedious, as often there is very little to go on; it’s like judging a chef by a canapé. Moreover, and more importantly, more often than not EPs serve as the beginning of a bands’ proof of concept; an early sketch, recorded at “hey we’re paying for this through our pizza delivery jobs” quality levels. It’d be unfair and pointless to have at it in the same intensity and level of detail as one would with Devin Townsend’s latest release. Often, in The Baboon’s experience, the end conclusion is about whether or not the band in question is one to watch as they grow.
That’s more or less the prevailing mindset when going through Mourning Wolf’s Elmhaven EP. Said pizza delivery recording quality is definitely a truth with this release, though much of it is camouflaged by strong black metal elements – the one genre in which the suckier the recording, the tr00er the band. Of course, Mourning Wolf being a small-town American band – they’re from Lansing, MI – there has to be more than just black metal. Hence, there’s a hefty dose of plain ol’ melodic metalcore stirred through.
The annals of the internet (you read that as ‘anals’ didn’t you?) do not mention a lot about Mourning Wolf, but what can be gathered is that they’re a six-piece that came together somewhere around late 2011 or early 2012, depending on whether you ask ReverbNation or Facebook . Elmhaven is the group’s debut, and hence as much of a proof of concept as can be.
What’s clear from track titles, “Elmhaven Part I” and “Elmhaven Part II“, is that Elmhaven is supposed to be a concept release. Unfortunately, that clarity doesn’t show from the actual music. Whether you care about that is a separate matter, but the fact is that this may be caused by a lack of contrast. With only two songs of a very similar look and feel, it’s hard to assess how the songs would’ve stood out together on a full album. There is no contrast and because of that there’s no bond. There’s always a straight line between two points, but that doesn’t mean there’s a connection or trend. Point being: why have two and call them Part I and Part II? Why not connect the whole thing into one song and make clear what’s inadequately suggested? Or is there a desire to suggest more depth and meaning than is actually there?
In itself, none of this would’ve mattered if this wasn’t carried through into the actual music too. I’m usually a sucker for a bit of sadness in my metal, but with Elmhaven its feels insincere, almost faked. Maybe it’s too formulaic and too ‘nothing new’, or perhaps it just doesn’t come across on account of recording quality and a way too synthetic keyboard tone. Whatever it is, something doesn’t work here and subtracts from the grand total.
And that’s a pity, because Elmhaven also has a lot of good to offer. For one, there is some quality drumming going on, exhibiting a nice variety of styles – from rattling blasts to beats that really contribute and help accentuate musical points. In terms of guitars, nothing extraordinary is going on, but the tunes feel honest and don’t suffer from any over-processing. Most notable feature, however, are the vocals. Mourning Wolf feature dual vocal duties and the result is a tasteful mix of styles. In particular, the lower end growling appeals and reminds of Tuomas Saukkonen (Before the Dawn, Dawn of Solace, etc.), who was recently nominated for a metal vocal award by Polish magazine Metalnews.pl. Ergo, this is good!
In conclusion, Mourning Wolf clearly have a bunch of focus points before it’ll turn into something that will stand out. For the time being, Elmhaven isn’t particularly worthwhile. It lacks punch and convincing power and needs more of its own, but, truth be told, there’s a foundation that can be built on at least. Also, you can download the full thing on a name-your-price basis from Bandcamp.