Rolling Stone has a sneak preview of the new The Joy Formidable album streaming on their website. As a big fan of the Welsh rock band’s first release, 2011’s The Big Roar, I’ve looked forward to this release for some time. The band played a benefit concert at a church in D.C. this past November and debuted a few of the new tracks on stage, but I’ve been waiting to hear how they sound on tape.
Well, the wait is over and they sound pretty great. “This Ladder is Ours” and “Cholla” follow the format perfected on Roar‘s “Whirring” and “Austere”: melodic builds, catchy hooks, and a whole lot of guitar. The band’s success lies in the careful balance of arena rock volume and delicate sensitivity. Ritzy Bryan is a gifted song-writer, and her lyrics seem to guide the instrumentation on tracks like “The Leopard and the Lung” and “Tendons” as the band shifts gears on a dime from gentle acoustics to wall of sound riffs. The distinction between loud and soft is more pronounced than before, evident on tracks such as “Forest Serenade”‘s beautiful interlude between Dave Grohl-worthy thrashing. The peaks between quiet and loud are much higher and lower than on Roar, with the thunderous churning of “Bats” and grungy “Maw Maw Song” in particular harder than anything the band has previously recorded.
Yet despite the guitar theatrics, the focus and highlight of Wolf’s Law is the song-writing. The band has made much of their retreat to a cabin in Maine to write the new album, and that communion with nature is evident on every track, though the band manages to miss dumbing down things by pushing message before craft. “Silent Treatment” was my favorite moment of November’s live show, offering a stripped-down view of the band dropping it’s rock-and-roll armor. It’s a beautiful post-breakup ballad and the delicate acoustic guitar is a wonderful accent to Ritzy’s melancholy chorus. The other acoustic gem is an unfortunately-hidden bonus track at the conclusion of the album. “Wolf’s Roar” is gorgeous, a wonderfully cathartic build from acoustic ambiance to triumphant release, a fitting metaphor for the band’s trajectory.
Wolf’s Law is enjoyable, it is interesting, and it showcases the band’s versatility in a way that The Big Roar didn’t. The Joy Formidable avoided a sophomore slump and released the first great album of 2013.