There’s a lot of ‘firsts’ coming with Alpha Wolf‘s Fault: The EP is the first release (aside from singles) from Alpha Wolf since Lochie Keogh joined the band as frontman/vocalist, despite having sung with the band since before the release of “Black Mamba” in June last year. It’s also the first release that features Mitchell Fogarty on drums, even though he’s been drumming with Alpha Wolf since Invasion Fest 2017 at least. Fault is also the first full release for the band being backed by both Greyscale Records in Australia and New Zealand and SharpTone Records for the rest of the world. And as another noteworthy first, as I write this Alpha Wolf are on their first European run.
With an icy cold aesthetic, Alpha Wolf‘s Fault EP is dark and unfeeling from its visuals alone. From the announcement of the EP, I was incredibly curious as to how the Melbourne based quintet would be creating using ‘fault’ as the joining factor of the songs to come.
Previously released single “No Name” opens the EP. Moving from a buried and static introduction before growing in strength, it seems to build into a line-drawing statement of refusal. I’d originally thought that this track related to the rejection of another, but having the lyrics in front of me made me understand it differently. I now see it to be describing how earlier damage has made a person distrusting, unfeeling, and riddled with doubt and self-hatred. It’s a line drawn about no longer being apologetic for who they are, but also seeing their own state of apathy and not necessarily being okay with it. Through the lens of fault, this is acknowledging where they’ve ended up and how that impacts their present life.
The lyrical sentiment is expressed with roaring heaviness, backed by both Lochie and John Arnold’s vocals. The urgency and discomfort is amplified by a pace that pushes the track forward and zig zagging riffs (courtesy of Scott Simpson and Sabian Lynch). The focus on bass purrs and drumming carve out a breather outside of the unrelenting intensity, before we circle around to another verse reminiscent of the first. The “Can you hear that? That’s the sound of me not giving a fuck” line is one heck of a memorable moment, and was one even before the single was released.
Intensity is kept high as Fault slides immediately into “Spirit Breaker”. Marked by a call of “GO!” after an amped up introduction, the two-steppable verses keep adding onto the weight and the impact of the track. But what impacts even more is the lyrics, which I’m grateful to have so I can have even more understanding of what’s being shared here. It’s coming across to me as a well-painted image of someone uncomfortably looking back in regret of what they didn’t do: “I let what we had die and what we didn’t fester into this unrequited love that poured this ink to paper”.
To me, “Spirit Breaker” is a continuation of “No Name” in a way, where someone’s observations of themselves lead to their honesty with how they are unable to feel or care for another. I LOVE the imagery of the second verse which describes how a lover had a key to his heart but then “Cold snapped across your hands / Breaking in two, leaving in me”. That frozen in time sense of brokenness, where you’re locked and unlockable has been beautifully captured. Or at least that’s how I took it!
Unfortunately I don’t get a matching mood of regret and ache transmitted through the vocals. I don’t even get an emotionless or coldness. It just come across in strength and anger more than anything else. In this ‘story’ the protagonist is also talking about physically moving away and the stuckness he feels with his future direction, but again it comes across as something defensive more than the uncomfortable defeat of ‘yep, I’m fucked no matter what I do or where I go’. I had wanted to hear and feel that sense of futility.
As “Spirit Breaker” continues, there’s a mammoth breakdown and punched out lines accompanied by instrumental savagery, and an eerie melody glides along with the chorus. A call out of “Tell me it’s all make believe” is a moment where it all comes together and seems to work well. But at risk of repeating myself, I’m strongly empathising with an ‘I’m too broken to be able to love’ state of being that’s contained within the lyrics, and I’m not sure it comes across like that with the vocals. SharpTone Records label mates Holding Absence are one good example of a band that have recently taken this exact theme and run with it on their self-titled album, crafting something that hits emotionally hard. I wanted to feel something, Alpha Wolf!
“Loneliness is a hell of a drug and I can’t get enough”
With the strength and defensiveness of voice, I think that the call-out vibe suits Alpha Wolf best, and the third track “Russian Roulette” comes across as this. The track feels like a collision with someone who lives in a delusional fantasy world, and lists off their failings and faults. Though there’s room for personal interpretation, a spoken word section is pretty unambiguous in its distaste for the ‘shell of what you think is human’ and capturing their presentation of different personas, depending on who they’re with. It feels like a push for another to take responsibility for their role/their fault, instead of playing the victim and expecting everyone else around them to pander to them.
Musically, I’m a fan of the way “Russian Roulette” is structured, specifically how the chorus is a repeated line (“You know you’re rotting your teeth when you keep running your mouth”) and combines a buzzing/whirring melody with it. The drumming is a noticeably great feature of “Russian Roulette”, as is the outro and how Lochie all but throws his hands up and quits at the chorus; literally saying “Ah, fuck it” mid-line, while the song instrumentally fades out. It’s a perfect capture of the vibe of “I’m done wasting time on this person I can’t stand”.
Bleeding straight into “Fault”, it soon becomes apparent that the 45 second track is an interlude, featuring spoken word from Sabian Lynch. With just eerie tones, affected vocals, and some kind of tapping or crackling, “Fault” captures a dark atmosphere of high expectations and the consuming sense of failure that can come as a result. Being mentally nagged and haunted by a past where you didn’t live up to what you wanted to be is a tough place to be.
“Sub-Zero” is great from the beginning, with its high pitched scratchy into and the accusations toward the “pussy in a black hoodie”. It’s an inviting slice of the two-faced story we heard in “Russian Roulette”, where what’s presented isn’t what is legitimately there.
There’s some times through listening to this EP where I wasn’t sure if it was a savage push-back or a self-hate riddled attempt to be bluntly honest with oneself. In “Sub-Zero”, it could easily be taken as both, aside from a few lines. The alienation we’ve heard in previous tracks could be heard in the discomfort of being numb and unlike others, or referring to oneself as trash, but lines like “You’re barking like a dog, but I’m a fucking wolf” and “come and break it off if you want a piece” are clear outward strikes.
Musically the track is entrancing and drawing, and has stand out moments. In particular the sliding and multi-layered echo of voices that feel fittingly mocking and overwhelming. The build up to the breakdown courtesy of guitar and drums around the one minute mark is well done, and the dark and punishing state continues even though it sounds off in the distance. I also appreciated the downward stepping guitar melody around the two minute mark. “Sub-Zero” only continues to get better as the song goes on, where musically Alpha Wolf seem to be just playing with this vibe of deconstruction and things grinding to a searing halt.
“The Lonely Bones” is the definite ‘big finish’ for the EP. A disturbing atmosphere is created by a looming guitar cloud which drops down into a thicker, fuller, more complex sound. The chorus is more melodic than I expected and seems to combine the voices of both John and Lochie (?). I was gradually more and more immersed in the grand kind of anthemic quality this track has, and I love the cliff’s edge vibe that’s created by the building tension and soaring sound. I’m a big fan of the tone of the bass as well as the drumming leading into the edge-teetering ending of the track. The final lyric “Forget the blood” came across to me as important.
Though the rushes of syllables and screams show Lochie’s skill, there’s many times where again it feels like the instrumentation gives room for the vocals to deliver something emotionally powerful and it doesn’t come. There’s lines like “Your absence deep like a cut throat can’t fill the hole with void shaped shadows” that carry some anguish, but I craved a lot more. Especially in a follow up to Mono. Only as “The Lonely Bones” was coming to an end, where cries to “Let it bleed, expose the nerve” showed there was potential for more raw emotion.
Each track of Fault flows into the next and that works really well for this EP as a whole. Fault seems to have been created as one piece, feeling like a story that’s being shared in parts. While I couldn’t necessarily chart an ongoing storyline thread through Fault, I appreciated the nod to the concept of fault in each, and the different circumstances of this; whether we admit our role of fault, or make it clear for another to take the responsibility they are needing to. I also appreciated blatant lyrical cuts as well as there still being enough ambiguity for the listener to take it in their own way.
Instrumentally, Alpha Wolf seem like they could do anything and work incredibly well together. There are times where it feels blunt and savage, and others where it seems more creatively playful. I’d personally have loved to have had more clarity where “Fault” fits in to the EP, whether it’s a turning point or similar, but I didn’t have that.
Probably the most challenging part for me when it came to Fault was wanting the emotional meaning of the lyrics to hit me vocally. But Lochie isn’t Aidan, and the Alpha Wolf that created Mono aren’t the same band that have created Fault. It’s tough to be clearly objective and compartmentalise expectations of a band, while also having great appreciation for an earlier release of theirs. Fault is good, but I feel like it could be wowingly great if the emotionally honest lyrics had emotional honesty to hit the messages home in an impactful way.
Alpha Wolf continually come across strong and united, and Fault shows their instrumental prowess. The lyrics skillfully delve into darker realities or deliver savage one-liners.
I would have loved to be swept up in the emotional side of things more than I was. Repeat listens will be needed for the songs to be uniquely memorable.