Don Wilk

REVIEW: White Wolf – Endangered Species (1986 Japanese CD)

wwesWHITE WOLF – Endangered Species (1986 BMG Japan)

With a name like White Wolf you’d almost expect this band to come from the forests of Northern Ontario or Quebec.  No so; they hail from provincial capital of Edmonton Alberta (pop: 800,000).  So we’ll forgive that the music video for “Shadows in the Night” (from 1984’s Standing Alone) made them looks like outdoors winter survivalists.  Long-haired sidekicks of Les Stroud?  No; they look much more indoors-y on Endangered Species, their second album before disbanding.  The album cover is notable for being a Hugh Syme work, though obviously a lesser one.

They earned some minor video play with “She”, indicating a more keyboardy direction than album #1.  Mushy sounding drums distract from the killer Don Wolf (Don Wilk) chorus.  Akin to Dokken’s “Breaking the Chains”, “She” will appeal to hard rockers who like melody with their guitars.  It’s all about that chorus though, the kind that makes you hit “repeat” and go right back to the start.

White Wolf has a weird 80s metal thud and that combined with harsh production values make Endangered Species sound terribly dated.  Techy keyboard flairs sound lifted from David Bryan’s Slippery When Wet sound library.  Anyone craving mid-tempo 80s hard rock will find enjoyable music on Endangered Species, but few songs have the same impact as “She”.  Dull verses, bland choruses and generic song titles keep things from sticking.  Sub-Jovi with none of Jon’s then-irresistible innocence is a narrow niche.

“Just Like an Arrow” comes close, but the keyboards weigh it down when it should be flying.  Too many bands (Quiet Riot, Stryper, etc.) really let the keys have too much space around this time.  “Cryin to the Wind” has an excellent acoustic intro but not enough of a song to go with it.  The drum samples are obtrusive because they don’t sound natural.  It sounds like a lot of time was taken in the studio but the technology wasn’t up to the task, and everything came out tinny and powerless.  “Holding Back” doesn’t have enough hooks.  “Snake Charmer” steals a title and a hook from Ritchie Blackmore, and appeals as a Rainbow-like understudy.  The only other track besides “She” and “Snake Charmer” that hits the spot is “One More Time”.

Not a terrible album, not a flaming turd…but not a winner either.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: White Wolf – Standing Alone

Bought in April at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale.  Not listened to in full until October.  Backlog!

WHITE WOLF – Standing Alone (1984 RCA)

From Edmonton, Alberta, Canada came White Wolf.  The land that spawned the massive West Edmonton Mall also produced a hard rock band that combined old fashioned Canadian workmanship with prototypical 80’s rock and heavy metal.  Sharing common ground with bands like Scorpions, Dokken, and even Van Halen and Rainbow, White Wolf weren’t half bad.  The singer Don Wolf (Wilk) has enough power in his voice to raise the roof just enough to be an opening band in an arena.  They’re not quite headline quality, but I bet they were damn good openers.

Their debut album Standing Alone is best known for the single/video “Shadows in the Night”, still my favourite song from the band.  In fact I think it’s quite excellent.  The chugging riff, the excellent vocals and chorus, it has everything!  It even had a suitably cheesy and sexist music video, portraying the band as some sort of wilderness totem hero/villains.  Don’t worry, maybe it’s all a dream, or  just a hell of a bush party/concert?  Hell, I don’t know.

I friggin’ love fur hats! So warm!

Thankfully the album is more than just one song.  The track “Standing Alone” is a mid-tempo but ominous opener, a mournful song about (guess what) standing alone! (Like a wolf?  Layers!)  “Headlines” is uptempo, verging on Priest territory.  Both have plenty of guitar work to go around.  They are followed by “Shadows in the Night” and the seven minute plus “What the War Will Bring”.  This a pretty respectable shot at doing an epic.  Utilizing multiple vocalists and backing keyboards, it’s a tour-de-force suitable for closing side one of the album.

“Night Rider” begins with bad King-Kobra-esque vocal harmonies, but quickly gets into a dual guitar melody before it takes off.  This would be one of the weakest songs with one of those awful, cliche titles.  “Homeward Bound” is a fun song utilizing two lead vocalists, but that riff sure does sound familiar.  Although the guitar rips off “God of Thunder” by Kiss a little bit, this is one of the better songs.  I love the dual vocalist concept, and it’s a fun sleazy romp like 80’s Kiss.  “Metal Thunder” is a pretty poor song title, but a decent stomp through territory previously explored by the likes of Judas Priest.  “Trust Me” is the final song, clearly inspired by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  All it needs is Ronnie James Dio shouting, “Danger! Danger!” and suddenly it’s “Kill the King”.

There’s a certain kind of Canadian mediocrity that exudes from bands like White Wolf and label-mates Thor.  This even extended to bands like Triumph and Helix, at various parts of their careers.  I don’t know what it is, but so many Canadian bands of this sub-genre just failed to explode into fully-fledged world-classic song writing and recording.  Maybe it’s touring in a little van during harsh Canadian winters, but I think I’ve made a valid observation.

All that being said, for the $7.00 I paid for this record, I have no regrets.  Standing Alone doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it fail to raise a smile any time I’ve played it.  I’m glad to finally have “Shadows in the Night”, and I’m pleased to induct songs like “Homeward Bound” into my collection for the first time.

3/5 stars