REVIEW: Alpha Wolf – Mono [2017]

Artist: Alpha Wolf

Album: Mono


Maybe it’s just because I’m a medical student (or because of an unfortunate early high school experience), but when I hear or read mono, I instantly think of the incredibly contagious and debilitating illness mononucleosis. Characterized by malaise, splenomegaly, fatigue and common cold-like symptoms, conventional mono…sucks. The only really effective treatment is just rest and isolation—so you don’t get others ill.

Because, at the end of the day, that is the true meaning of Mono—loneliness, isolation and quarantine. It’s true of the illness it derives a truncated name from, and it’s true of the debut album by Australian aggressive nu-metal-turned-metalcore outfit Alpha Wolf.

With humble beginnings as a righteously heavy and relentless downtempo deathcore outfit, the years following the band’s debut have endured witness to drastic stylistic change and refinement. The result? A dynamic like that seen on Mono—a magnificent, depressive and downright dirty display of self-deprecating loathing and bitterness. Sharper than razor wire but still filled with enough blunt force brutality to inflict closed head injury, Mono is infectiously catchy and immensely lethal from start to its very finish.

Alpha Wolf oppress the listener with vicious grooves and rambunctious heaviness from the very start of “Ward of the State,” infusing a penchant for punchy, in-your-face breakdowns with eerie leads and off-the-wall effects that give them a sinister and thoroughly self-loathing vibe bound to permeate every gram of the listener’s existence. Percussionist Jackson Arnold serves as Alpha Wolf’s heart—which, while anemic and infect with loneliness and desperation, continues to beat as ferociously as a lion’s. Arnold’s drumming is bizarre and unpredictable on songs like “No. 2” and the blistering introduction, “Ward of the State,” yet markedly more straightforward on the breakneck and bouncy “#104.” Arnold’s diverse playing and incredible technical precision gives Mono a strong and energetic foundation, amplified by the works of bassist John Arnold. Arnold’s bass adds depth and intensity to every one of Jackson’s jarring kick drum hits and boldly contrasts the splashy, sharp cymbals and bright, snappy snare drum—this is especially evident on “Promise Stays,” which decays into a sludgy, dreary series of breakdowns that allow the bass’ booming low-end to truly shine. Where the Arnolds hold down an aggressive low-end with ease and expertise, much of the brilliant variety throughout Mono spills forth from the fingers and fretboards of guitarists Sabian Lynch and Scottie Simpson. Lynch and Simpson are brilliant—capable of sharp, scathing riffs on “No. 2” and “FAILVRE,” yet capturing eerie, off-putting atmosphere on “Mono” and throughout moments towards the tail-end of the album (“My Untold Memoir” is a totally beat-driven track that captures a similar mood, albeit in a catchier and less grim fashion). Lynch and Simpson chug, groove and riff their way through Mono with miraculous consistency, as even “Epiphobia” and “Devon Street” hit with the same belligerent aggression as “Ward of the State” and “FAILVRE.” This dynamic duo capture the twists and turns of a mind warped by depression and self-hatred, even including the kinks and attempted repair by medications and illicit substances alike, giving Mono a truly bleak and grief-laden atmos.

To speak of bleak, grief, despair or depression is to speak, primarily, of the efforts from frontman Aidan Ellaz. Ellaz, assisted by bassist John Arnold at points, is one of the best vocalists of this style the heavy music scene has witnessed to date. If the cutthroat aggression within “Ward of the State” or the angst-plagued moans of “No. 2” don’t convince you, “FAILVRE” and “Golden Fate: Gut Ache” will. Completely versatile and energetic without fail, Alpha Wolf is capable of low-key and melancholy vocal styles seen on “My Untold Memoir” (provided by guitarist Lynch), anthemic and soaring singing throughout the chorus of “Golden Fate: Gut Ache,” and the ending of “FAILVRE” which, for lack of a better way to describe it, is simply awesome. Imagine living inside the demented and maze-like gyri and sulci of a brain in an individual who has only briefly known happiness. For a short, intense time, they were alive with light and joy—only to have it smothered by cruelty, loss and grievance, never to see it again. Imagine the rollercoaster of treatments and substances that follow—sickness, addiction, depression—that is what Ellaz and the entirety of Alpha Wolf drag the listener through, and they do it better than just about any of their peers.

Mono is marvelous in the most murderously heavy and haunted way there is. While one might wish that it was a bit longer-lived, it still boasts just over a half-an-hour of intensity that hits incredible highs and unfathomable emotional lows. Catchy at many points (“Golden Fate: Gut Ache,” I’m looking at you) and crushing at many others (“FAILVRE,” et al), Alpha Wolf are whimsical in how they deliver pain and anguish to the listener, but they do it without letting up on the gas or giving them a break. Mono is what it is to be infected with grief and despair so dense you can almost feel it—and it’s sure to infect ears all around the world.



For Fans Of: Apate, ‘Sabella, Barrier, Yuth Forever, Sworn In

By: Connor Welsh