Album Review: Wolf & Cub – NIL (2020 LP)

After a long absence, Wolf & Cub are back, but not as you know it, armed with a new drummer, a heavier sound and a ‘zero-f**ks-given’ attitude all on show with new album NIL.

NIL is Wolf & Cub’s fourth studio album. But, their first since 2013’s Heavy Weight which failed to deliver the commercial success they had hoped. That commercial set back lead to their collective disillusionment, having emerged as a potential ‘next big thing’ in Australian rock in the late noughties.

However, the once-psych rockers from Adelaide have grown and put that derailment aside, big time. Produced by the band and released on frontman Joel Byrne’s co-owned label Part Time Records, NIL is fiercely dark, intense and independent.

At times it’s aggressive about the music industry. Releasing it has arguably been a cathartic experience for Byrne, who wrote the majority of the lyrics, with input from bassist Wade Keighran. New drummer Jonathan Boulet’s tireless and propulsive work on the skins is a highlight, along with their newfound heaviness and free attitude.

The first single and opening track “Blue State” has a killer bass line hook, reminiscent of Kasabian. There’s neat guitar interplay combined with a cowbell and lyrics about class privilege. It sets the tone for the album.

Second single and third track “Close To The Edge” is equally enjoyable. Led by Boulet’s heavy drums and distortion in overdrive, it has the band sounding like Queens of the Stone Age, as Byrne bemoans online arguments. In fact, there is a theme of the ugliness of people hiding behind keyboards on social media on NIL, which offers an insight into Byrne’s frustrations. Lyrically, he doesn’t hold back on NIL.

Second track “Level” is a wildly abrasive track that showcases their change in direction, with Boulet’s drumming enhancing an intense energy. Meanwhile, fifth rack “Nil Desperandum” offers a gentle instrumental intermission that breaks up the album. The track, whose name translates to ‘do not despair’ from Latin, was actually an unused song from a short film score which gladly didn’t go to waste as it fits perfectly on NIL.

“Losing Touch” is a big ‘f**k you’ track to the music industry or, as Byrne puts it, his mission statement of the album. Accepting their place in the industry, having not kicked on after their early highs, is a constant theme on NIL. Although at times you’re left questioning whether he’s at peace with that or still slightly bitter.

Penultimate track “Undone” talks about a panic attack, but lyrically references third LP Heavy Weight, which felt like a burden for Byrne and his four-piece that they’ve taken some time to overcome. Released from the burden of expectation, that theme of acceptance combined with rapid stickwork, howling guitars and driving bass lines means NIL goes close to Wolf & Cub’s best work to date.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wolf & Cub’s NIL is out now. Keep up to date with the band via Facebook.

Ben Somerford

Aussie freelance journalist, sports, music, entertainment, top 10 lists. Take beach pics too.

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