NorthWind Wolves is a black metal band originating from sunny Los Angeles, California with a sound that feels deceivingly like something conjured from the iciest, deepest regions of Scandinavia. Their aptly-titled, second full-length studio album ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…,’ released on Sweden-based, Black Lion Records in 2017, is precisely as advertised – dark, cold, and grim. What first draws you in to the record is the excellent cover artwork consisting of a mist-engulfed, moonlit, gothic castle which effectively serves to immerse you, as the listener, into this world. The musical style is symphonic or folkish at times, gritty and nasty others, but overall is firmly rooted in an old-school, melodic black metal sound.
The band consists of Noor on main vocals, guitars, and keyboards; Astaroth on guitars; Lennis on bass; and Bret Batdorf (The Faceless) on drums. During the mid-2000s, Noor and Astaroth were members of the band Sinstorm before later forming NorthWind Wolves in 2013 to create what they describe as “vile melodic black metal.” The band released their first studio album, ‘Astronomy’ that same year.
Starting off the vileness on ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…’ is the wickedly melodic and bludgeoning first song, “Dark Skies for Black Sorcery.” The spooky keyboard melodies, reminiscent of Entombed’s “Through the Collonades,” and lead guitar lines stand out distinctly to create the brooding feeling of being in the presence of dark magic. It’s a short track that ends with an ominous, keyboard-soloed outro that sets the tone nicely for what’s to come.
On the next song, “Specters Within the Funeral’s Mist,” we are greeted by some impressively powerful drumming by Bret while the song, melodically, takes on a slightly more upbeat, triumphant tone. Noor’s growling and screaming vocals add a menacingly welcome contrast to the instrumentation. An unexpectedly enjoyable moment comes during the breakdown at the end, during which the song transitions sharply into a slowed-down, doomy bassline, rimshots, and somewhat (dare I say) prog-ish guitars while Noor repeatedly spews the word “hungry” sinisterly. Definitely one of the coolest moments of the record.
“Cold-Hearted Kings of the Occult,” another one of the album’s highlights, comes in like a raging Nazgul on horseback with fast keys, fast guitars, and fast drums. Musically, the whole band is flawlessly in-sync and firing on all cylinders here. It’s a straight-forward ass-kicker with an impressive guitar solo. Other standout tracks are “Foul Wolves and Black Magic,” a sinister, technical burst of ferocity. The vocals are particularly venomous and foreboding as the band’s namesake is described lyrically. A funky bassline, squealing guitar leads, and alternating time signatures make this one a solid headbanger. “Entrance to the Dark Universe” is just pure badass, mid-tempo groove-thrash. The chugging guitar riffs are aggressive and mean while the keyboards add some additional depth to the darkness. As if one needed any more proof by this point that Bret is an amazing drummer, “Celestial Extinction” will surely convince all naysayers. This final song to close out the album is a journey into the abyss that runs the gamut of what this band is capable of from dark, melodic atmospheres, to balls-out brutality – this track sums it all up exceptionally.
On the original 2017 album release, there was a thinness to the guitar tone as a whole and the vocals were often drowned out while the drums were a bit overbearingly-loud. Additionally, there was often a distinct level of separation within the sound space between each guitar track, with each one being entirely dedicated to its own speaker – one in the left ear and one in the right – reminiscent of a retro style of recording layered guitar tracks. These were not devastating issues, however, and perhaps were consciously implemented to achieve an old-school sound. Thankfully, the band has since released a crushing, 2018 remastered version of ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…‘ which addresses these issues and has a much more polished sound, particularly allowing for the vocals to shine through as they deserve.
Overall, ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…’ is a solidly powerful, macabre, and melodic thirty-minute journey that leaves no question that NorthWind Wolves are seriously talented and serious about their black metal. The imagery in the music and lyrics transports the listener to dark, candlelit hallways of ancient castle catacombs; haunted, mist-shrouded graveyards under the moonlight; and icy, mountainous landscapes of war-torn, Nordic kingdoms of the past. Strap in, open your imagination, and enjoy the vileness.