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As you're now probably aware, 'Skull + Bones' is the second of two albums released by Austrian artist I-Wolf & The Chainreactions on the same day. The other being the first in the set, 'Flesh + Blood'. A few songs are contained on both albums in alternate versions, but most are different compositions, the idea being that 'Flesh + Blood' is the "life" album and 'Skull + Bones' is the "death" album. As we found out, the "life" album may have been slightly lively at some points, but it still gave off a bleak aura and wasn't the most comfortable of listens. It was, though, innovative and very accomplished with some very fine music included. This album is supposed to be darker and is dedicated to those we've lost. If this is to be darker, it'll be a job to prevent it from becoming overbearingly so, especially given the atmosphere of the supposedly lively half of the equation.
Relying more on working as a solo artist than with such a large band, those soulful vocals that projected some heart and life into 'Flesh + Blood' are gone. 'Howling Years' is a male vocal, and this is over the top of what could be the soundtrack to a particularly desolate scene in a Western movie. The beat thuds bluntly. There doesn't feel like much life here; it feels like something drawing to a close. The pounding begins again on 'Brighter Than The Sun', a song that talks of a struggle and of desolation, desperation even. The lyrics do not paint a pretty picture. It seems as though I-Wolf can make an album that's even more filled with doom and barrenness, yet the music isn't as depressing as it could be. It feels like a band drawing their final breaths, but it's not dull, it contains emotion and it contains a certain complexity which seem at odds with the sparse arrangements. 'Let It Go' is one of the more accessible songs on the first album, and even here it's lighter than what comes before. That said, by comparison is gives off vibes of confusion and submission. The line "let it go" perhaps referring to life in its final throws.
There's a more upbeat feel allowed to come back into the music on 'Wicked Paradise' and the female vocal also helps lighten the load, but still, gone is the lushness and density of some of the "life" album's tracks, it's also almost unrecognisable from its first incarnation. If soul was what carried 'Flesh + Blood', then it's the desert wilderness that 'Skull + Bones' is rooted in. 'Side Walk' could also be from a Western and the pedestrian pace of the album does become a bit of a burden at times. There's a slight glimpse back at that soul on 'Everybody Needs A Way', but it's accompanied by a medieval sounding beat that could be leading up to an execution. If the very thought of listening to 'Skull + Bones' is now becoming a chore, it should be noted that these songs, although not instant, are by no means bad, and instant gratification can be found in 'Holdin Thru', perhaps one of the best songs of either album. There is a final blast of life before the total consumption of the existence at stake here. 'You Know It Ain't Right' is another more easily appreciated song despite the fact that it takes the tone down a touch further again. With the finale of 'Total Eclipse Of The Sun' ebbing away into the distance, the grand odyssey is over. I-Wolf has made this album gloomier than its counterpart, but it has its moments. We'd still pick "life" over "death" in terms of the music though.
I-Wolf & The Chainreactions' website
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