The Joy Formidable have come a long way since their formation in a quiet North Walian market town back in 2007.
After several years of extensive touring and intermittent releases of infectious shoegaze-pop gems in the form of early singles ‘Austere‘ and ‘Cradle‘, the band finally unveiled their critically acclaimed debut album ‘The Big Roar‘ back in early 2011.
The record was worth the wait; marrying melodious dream pop with a guitar heavy, explosively sprawling wall of sound, cultivated through childhood experiences amongst expansive rural solitude, thus forming an insatiable curiosity amongst a growing fanbase eager to see the band’s next direction.
A colossal Dave Grohl shaped stamp of approval on frantic alt-rock powerhouse album track ‘Whirring‘ saw the band’s profile soar yet higher, resulting in a run of US arena support slots for Grohl’s Foo Fighters, as well as accompanying Muse on their UK tour at the back end of last year.
Having reached such dizzying heights, few would have forgiven the band for a lengthy downtime period before compiling new material. It wasn’t long, however, before lead singer Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd sought self-imposed solace inside a recording studio amidst a snow engulfed remote region of Casco, Maine, to begin work on what would becom their follow up album – ‘Wolf’s Law‘.
The isolated winter haven provided an appropriate catalyst for a record which depicts a concentrated period of emotional recovery for a band dealing with recent personal loss and familial difficulties, resulting in a creative outpouring of emotion and aggression which houses an arguably greater intensity than even that of its predecessor.
Opening track ‘This Ladder Is Ours‘ hints at a continuation of the stripped back, melodious-verse-to-earth-shattering-chorus format that encompassed much of their debut album. The song sees the band dip their toes into pop-punk territory, integrating pounding drum beats courtesy of drummer Matt Thomas alongside minimalistic power pop riffs, before a slow-down midway through makes way for Bryan’s disarmingly ethereal vocals, acting as a contrastingly soothing presence to the largely piercing instrumental.
This segues into next track ‘Cholla‘, as the trio display an unrelenting urge to keep things moving apace, seeing an immediate launch into a distortion filled fuzz-guitar lead, seemingly containing traces of Queens Of The Stone Age fingerprints all over the fretboard such is its ferocity. Bryan’s voice once more acts as the appropriate antithesis to the cacophony of sound, seeing a nonchalant delivery during the chorus in exclaiming: “Where are we going? What are we doing?”
‘Tendons‘ makes for an interesting diversion into ‘In Utero‘ territory, containing drudging guitar before lyrically digressing into what Bryan states is, “the closest we have ever got to a love song, albeit a very peculiar love song”. The reference to tendons highlights an inextricable link in some relationships, and how different circumstances may affect and perhaps strain the bond, unravelling into what may be the band’s most openly revealing track to date.
Screeching guitar, prominent stomach twisting basslines, and an urgent chorus are the order of the day on ‘Little Blimp‘ while ‘Bats‘ sees a filtered, octave shifting Bryan vocal intro, before the familiar crashing of drums and heavy guitar deliver a frenetic, grunge infused lyrical repetition of lines such as, “I had a reason, but the reason went away”.
Half-way in the record experiences an obvious gear shift, as the overriding album themes of the natural environment come to the fore. The album title and metaphor for the record takes creative license from the medical definition Wolff’s Law, as the idea that every change in the form and the function of a bone leads to changes in its internal construction and in its external form.
This final section of the album in particular highlights a conscious decision to marry notions of the harsh difficulties of life with the inner healing powers associated in reconnecting with the untouched serenity of nature.
Standout track ‘Silent Treatment‘ highlights an alluringly delicate vulnerability in Bryan’s vocals, as a stripped back acoustic background provides a platform for a song taking the shape of a metaphorical velvet fabric woven around the hardened inner core comprising the rest of the album, although the track is still lyrically snarling at times in lines such as, “I’ll take the easy cynicism, less talking, more reason”.
‘Maw Maw Song‘ perhaps features the greatest departure in stylistic function above any other song found here, with the band embracing a heavy metal sound much in common with the Black Sabbath track ‘Iron Man‘. The recurring melody begins as a chime, before a roaring riff and spoken vocals match the tune, making for an almost playful 7-minute ode to a genre thought to be outside their usual remit.
‘Forest Serenade‘ isn’t quite the subdued offering its title would suggest, compounded by a crescendo building mixture of driven vocals, working in unison amongst power-chord infused guitar and increasingly aerobic drums beats enough for a full cardio workout.
The final run of tracks sparks an almost mini song trilogy within the album as a whole, beginning with ‘The Leopard and the Lung‘, which is based on a true story of a Kenyan female rights activist named Wangari Maathai, who fought for nature and women’s rights. ‘The Hurdle‘ is a slow burning tale of overcoming personal loss and yearning for a place once dear, while ‘The Turnaround‘ is as close to a ballad as the band would dare get, seeing a hauntingly orchestral backdrop to Bryan’s wispy vocals, transforming into a powerful rendition as the song grows.
The atmospheric, piano based title track ‘Wolf’s Law‘ rounds the album off in epic style, and is best viewed alongside the associated music video, presenting a black & white circle of life montage to further accentuate the record’s theme.
The sheer weight of imaginative ambition harnessed within this consciously cathartic rock record, which empowers our natural environment, sets down a marker for continued evolution as the band continue to climb a few extra rungs of the ladder in pursuit of their own lofty musical ideals.