Review: Blackwülf ‘Thieves And Liars’

The Bay Area of California has long been a hotbed of heavy, riff-centric rock ‘n’ roll going back decades. From early thrash metal to apocalyptic stoner and doom, the Bay Area never seems to have a shortage of musicians under the spell of the riff, whether they’re playing it fast or slow. Oakland’s Blackwülf proffers a stoner rock sound that’s also rooted in traditional metal, with an almost hard rock sound. Riff-y, hook-y, with an obvious nod to the ‘70s behemoths, Blackwülf‘s fourth album, Thieves And Liars check these boxes, and additionally, is delivered with crisp sonics, allowing these, by-now seasoned riff-rock vets, to give their best performances.

Blackwülf 'Thieves And Liars'

Witness opener Shadow as guitarists Jesse Rosales and Peter Holmes thrust forth a crunchy, driving-yet-melodic riff, that perfectly introduces vocalist Alex Cunningham’s wicked, rock-pipes. Sounding like a gruffer, more powerful Ozzy in most places, his rock roar on the chorus serves notice that he and Blackwülf are not fucking around. Shadow is a pretty awesome mission statement that kicks the proverbial aural door in with authority.

Seems To Me is where I start getting some of the aforementioned hard rock vibes. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tough-ass riffs, coupled with tasteful shred, and the precision rhythmic thud of bassist Scott Peterson, who unveils some spider-finger, fret-walking in the pocket as drummer Dave Pankenier simultaneously locks it down, while getting his bash-fest on. It is Cunningham’s melodic, soaring vocals, now sounding like Ozzy with more range, that, to my ears, moves Seems To Me in a ‘70s rock direction, and I don’t mean that as a negative.

The ‘70s riff-rock continues with the epic, yet driving Killing Kind, boasting an earworm of a bluesy main riff that could’ve been heard on a ‘90s Danzig album just as easily. Cunningham again shines, displaying his range, veering between a melodic delivery and a commanding rock god, sometimes in the same verse. Title track Thieves And Liars is a fist-pumping, ‘70s rocker that possesses a catchy chorus, a wicked mid-section build-up, and of course, Cunningham wailing above it all to rocking effect.

Cunningham’s rock god vocals, Holmes and Roslaes heavy, yet crisp, riffing and shred, cemented with Peterson and Pankenier’s rhythmic groove and virtuosity…

My favorite track on Thieves And Liars turned out to be the chugging, cowbell-infused Failed Resistance. The repetitive, crunchy riff is nailed into the listener’s skull with Pankenier’s well timed, persistent cowbell hits. Meanwhile, Cunningham delivers his lyrics with authority, again, displaying his massive rock god range, nowhere more evident on the mammoth middle breakdown. Failed Resistance is most definitely a sonic journey worth taking and it’s the centerpiece of the record to my ears.

There’s some Alice In Chains energy at the end of the charging, build it up/bring it down Psychonaut / Edge Of Light, as Cunningham’s vocals harmonize with Holmes melodic, yet aggressive lead work, before gracefully giving way to some Zeppelin-esque acoustic, trippy, psychedelic meanderings. Brother, and closer Cries Of A Dying Star both bring Blackwülf back to rocking, aggressive territory, as the band put forth all the aforementioned traits: Cunningham’s rock god vocals, Holmes and Roslaes heavy, yet crisp, riffing and shred, cemented with Peterson and Pankenier’s rhythmic groove and virtuosity.

A co-worker suggested that perhaps Blackwülf got their name from the ‘70s animated cult movie, and bottomless well of stoner rock inspiration, Wizards, as the villain’s name is ‘Black Wolf’. Perhaps adding the umlaut and the ‘u’ to distance themselves a bit from the villain’s roots in the movie? I might be overthinking this, but a band of this much experience, talent, and heft, wouldn’t just take two of the most used stoner, doom and riff rock words in ‘black’ and ‘wolf’ as a name, without some background would they?

Nonetheless, Thieves And Liars is an enjoyable, rocking ‘70s style record, featuring plenty of diverse, and melodic movements, mixed with heavy riffs and shred, to give the listener a varied, and thoroughly pleasing listen. Add Cunningham’s rock god vocals to the equation, Thieves And Liars stands as a killer and accomplished riff rock album.

Label: Ripple Music
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams