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Wolf Eyes - Human Animal

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Artist: Wolf Eyes

Album: Human Animal

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Sep. 28, 2006

The departure of Aaron Dilloway from the Wolf Eyes ranks and his subsequent replacement, Mike Connelly, was one that didn’t phase many fans. Sure, Dilloway’s presence would be missed, especially onstage, but Connelly had proven himself more than capable of some bad ass, hair-raising music as part of Hair Police, amongst other one-offs and side projects. There was a contingent, however, sometimes vocal, that seemed certain that the shift in personnel had doomed the band, that it was the beginning of a descent into mediocrity, or worse, self-parody. Human Animal is the first high-profile release to surface since Connelly’s enlistment, and the boys’ second disc on Sub Pop, whose signing of Wolf Eyes was a completely different reason for cynics to foretell of the group’s downward spiral. Human Animal, however, doesn’t evidence that slide; it more than substantiates that Wolf Eyes are in no danger of slipping, and that their musical output is as healthy (or unhealthy, perhaps) as ever.

The opening of the seminal track “Half Animal, Half Insane” (from 2001’s Dread) was always its hidden strength. Sure, the point at which it kicked in was a righteous explosion of chaos, but that eerie lead-in was where it was at, slowly building an encircling web that threatens to burst for so long that when the levee finally breaks, the result is exhilarating. every time. Human Animal doesn’t commence with such a obvious crescendo; instead “A Million Years” burns slowly for four minutes before exploding with a hellish shriek. Wolf Eyes soon return underground, however, and it’s in this subterranean realm that much of Human Animal subsides. A cursory listen identifies many of the hallmarks of Wolf Eyes’ sound, a continued exploration of the ominous thud, and grating, primitive electronics and vocals rising and falling in shuddering time with a heavy beat. But, in truth, Human Animal is the most textured and abstract of the band’s “official” releases in years, and while perhaps their methods aren’t new, the results aren’t simply the same old Wolf Eyes.

“Rusted Mange” finds the band’s usual pounding heartbeat gone arrhythmic amidst a claustrophobic swirl of scream and squeal. “Leper War” doesn’t represent a wholly new sound for Wolf Eyes, but the track is subtly one of their best in recent memory. It’s rather obvious that there’s no climax waiting at the end of the trip, and there’s little momentum to speak of, no evident catharsis in sight. Instead, Wolf Eyes lead the listener down their own River Styx, creating a palpable atmosphere like never before. The dead, gnarled trees are almost visible against a gray sky, with torpid, murky waters below, with no life to be seen. And while there are a few headbangers included in Human Animal’s ranks, including a clawing cover of No Fucker’s “Noise Not Music,” they’re not the album’s most striking work, or its scariest. Human Animal really seethes when it’s at a simmer; everyone good horror fan knows that the dread of oncoming terror is the best part of a scary scene, and with Human Animal, it’s no different. A trepidatious aura that practically produces goose bumps is at the core of the album’s most effective music, some of Wolf Eyes’ most unnerving material yet.

With a catalog so immense, it seems feeble to even begin discussing where in the Wolf Eyes canon Human Animal might belong. What’s obvious, however, is that without straying far from their own familiar aesthetic, Wolf Eyes have delivered again. There’s not a great deal of tangible growth between Human Animal and its predecessor, Burned Mind, but, as the best tracks on the album demonstrate, worthwhile progress needn’t always be the product of long, obvious strides.

By Adam Strohm

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