Careening into earshot with sweeping orchestral melodies born of hardship and heartache, Welsh pop-metal powerhouses The Joy Formidable are back. ‘This Ladder Is Ours’ instantly recalls the insatiable pop hooks and rollicking rock of their relentlessly fantastic debut, The Big Roar. They’ve kept their rotund licks – big chunky things that impressed beardy icon Dave Grohl (‘Whirring’ reportedly securing them a support slot with Foo Fighters) and won over the hearts of the yearly “guitar music is dead” stalwarts. But where The Big Roar was aggressively intimate and destined for sweaty dives, second effort Wolf’s Law is expansive, elaborate and fuelled by the great outdoors. There are strands of inspiration from every corner of the album here – both showcasing their intelligent, softer side and paying homage to the titanic, infectious earworms of their rock edge.
Nestled deep in the nature of Maine during a biting winter, Rhydian (Dafydd, bass), Ritzy and Matt (Thomas, drums) set about exploring the wild, frozen wastes and themselves. The gruelling, introspective process has paid off, their voyage of personal discovery resulting in a brutally honest account of personal exploration, and the way that nature shapes us all. Earlier lyrics on tracks like ‘Cradle’ and ‘A Heavy Abacus’ tended to saunter into complex realms, but here on Wolf’s Law things are simpler. You might still have to go beyond scratching the surface to decipher some tracks, but all the clues are there to be found.
‘Tendons’ and ‘Cholla’ both hark back to the heyday of their first full-length, but with an added joie de vivre that runs through their whole record. There’s plinky-plonky keys of docile sweetness, caressed by the screeching guitar and rampaging percussion in ‘Tendons’, and ‘Cholla’ is jubilant, carefree; the heady chorus of “What are we doing? Where are we going?” is anthemic, and the track especially poignant for those emerging from the intoxicating shackles of university and getting subsequently catapulted into the big bad world for the first time.
The Flea-esque bass that introduces ‘Little Blimp’ is our first sign that the segue/transitional period from Big Roar to Wolf’s Law that started the album has ended. The track has psych rock guitars squealing to the rafters above frantic snare seizures and kick drum bombast. It’s a heavenly chaos. ‘Bats’ echoes that theme, lulling you into a false sense of security before going (excuse the pun) batshit crazy. However, it’s in ‘Maw Maw Song’ that you really feel the sense of change. The oriental instrumentation and resounding percussive vocabulary is a long way from The Joy Formidable’s former home. With chant-along choruses of nonsensical “mawing” and the illustrious tapestry of prog-metal behind it, the track leaps out as something brand spanking new. It sparkles with the hodge-podge congregation of Far East rock, prog-pop-metal and Disney. There’s virtuosic (and lengthy) duelling guitar solos. It has to be heard to be believed.
‘The Hurdle’ sashays in with acoustic guitar and lolloping bass. It does hark back to their roots (albeit with a string quartet) somewhat, but there’s still a marked shift in sound. It’s a maturation – there’s less dependence on quirkiness and catchy riffs, and when freed from those obligations, they soar into gigantic noises hell-bent on stadiums while weaving tales of intimate woe or exploring the nature of pressure in relationships. ‘The Turnaround’ is lethargic balladry – there are Meatloaf-y wedges of cheese, but it’s humbled by maudlin violins and the sincerity of The Joy Formidable. It’s a stellar closer, fit for Broadway in its heartwrenching climax – the curtain falls on Wolf’s Law as dramatically as it opens.
This second album is less of a record than an experience. You truly get a sense of cosmic alignment here: as the band delve into their inner selves and explore everything with sonic illustration, it seems that despite the points of conflict they may dredge up, it’s all for the better. This is a cathartic album, and they want to share every up and every down with you. It’s clearly inspired by the outside, and fated for festivals; it’s a rugged collaboration of the savage landscapes humanity shares, and the innermost feelings you find during a meditative trance. This is collection of eleven songs, yes – but it’s also so, so much more.