When she was little my daughter called wolves, ‘wulps’ – a word that has stuck in the 1537 family to this day. I really liked Wulpsbane back in the day, Wulp Eyes terrified me*, German metallers Wulp were great** but by 2016 I needed a new pack of wulps to entertain me.
So imagine my joy when I first heard of English folk psych rockers Wolf People when they released their 2016 LP Ruins. I was sold on the idea of a formerly psych folk act going all Led Zep and heavy, after all Zep’s folky bits were often my favourites. I was doubly sold on the great LP cover, with its oddball calligraphy, helmeted warrior and geodesic domes^, plus how can you not want to own an album with songs on it called ‘Crumbling Dais’ and ‘Rhine Sagas’? Add in the fact that I found a limited edition clear vinyl copy and Bob’s you uncle.
The overriding theme of Ruins is of nature retaking control of the world, the triumph of fecundity over technology possibly after a folk-inspired armageddon type scenario^^, a sort of Fallout 4 goes pastoral meltdown. None of it is very relevant to the listener’s enjoyment as you certainly can rock out amongst the Ruins. They have a really unique sound built around some really in-your-face drumming by Tom Watt, the best tracks here are rhythmically led in the same way as hip-hop (the band’s musical first love) with some great two guitar interplay from Jack Sharp and Joe Hollick, all underpinned by some serious bass fuzz from Dan Davies. But don’t just take my word for it, crank this:
The lyrics of ‘Ninth Night’ are based on an 18th century burglar’s incantation, made whilst toting the Hand of Glory – either the stolen hand from a hanged man dipped in wax, or a candle made from the fat of a hanged man, believed to put their victims into a deeper sleep … ‘Let those who rest more deeply sleep / Let those awake their vigils keep / Oh Hand of Glory shed thy light / Direct us to our spoils tonight’. The music grooves somewhere north of ‘When The Levee Breaks’, east of ‘Wicked Woman’ and due south of ‘Sir Patrick Spens’. The production is not remotely laid-back and pastoral, all the most abrasive elements of Wolf People’s sound is pushed right up front into your face, I heartily approve.
The assault is continued by ‘Rhine Sagas’ – which erupts into an exhilarating, squall of guitar noise towards the end and the Stone-Roses-gone-Sabbath ‘Night Witch’, which was named after the feared female Russian aviators of WWII, heavy. These tracks are a lot heavier on the rock end of folk rock and sound good on it too, the folky bit being confined to bits of flute and certain vocal inflections.
A truer melding of the two is the absolutely brilliant ‘Kingfisher’, which is good enough to warrant two instrumental reprises on side B*^. They add in all their ingredients in perfect proportion on this one, a wistful vocal about (SPOILER ALERT!) a kingfisher^* and the beauty, importance, transcendence and neglect of nature. It starts off quiet and just builds and builds until you think it surely can’t get any more perfect and then it does. It provides Ruins with a real moment of greatness.
For me, the second side doesn’t deliver quite as consistently but it really isn’t remotely shabby. ‘Kingfisher Reprise’ turns almost African with its pealing guitar licks and fast drum shuffle, the opposite to the gently bucolic ‘Kingfisher Reprise II’. The real highlight is ‘Salts Mill’ (surely named after the Yorkshire mill/art gallery I love?), which is a swingeing tale of lost love and a rather lovely piece of music period, especially during its slinky coda.
So, I heartily commend Ruins to you all for the next time that you find yourself craving a bit of rock folk, some great guitar play and clever insistent rhythms. I very discreetly air-guitared along to a particularly rousing bit of ‘Night Witch’ at the station this morning; it is that good.
PS: I should report that these clever wulps have passed the toughest test known to the music industry and garnered the most elusive accolade possible for a band, they have won the Mrs 1537 seal of approval. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grammys, Ivor Novellos, MOBO awards … pah! This is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the wulps from the cubs.
*see how far you get with their 2004 LP Burned Mind, the track ‘Urine Burn’ pretty near finished me off.
**but their vinyl is too expensive, I recommend ‘I Will Kill Again’ but the video is a bit gruesome for me; ‘Shark Attack’ here is a good introduction to their unsubtle charms:
^I’ve always been very partial to a good geodesic dome.
^^they’re a little unclear on the exact details.
*^I’m always up for a good reprise, me.
^*a real 1537 avian favourite, there’s a couple of pairs nearby that we go to ogle at occasionally. True story.