Review: Powerwolf – The Sacrament of Sin
By Todd Naevestad
How do you introduce Powerwolf? I’m serious. If you’re into power metal even a little bit it’s hard to not know something about them. Their unique, darker, take on the often bright genre has always made them stand out. From their corpse paint and clerical regalia look to the consistent line up for so long, Powerwolf is a powerful force in metal and their new offering, The Sacrament of Sin, is another step in showing off how diverse their talents are.
If there is one central pillar of Powerwolf’s music, it is atmosphere. And we’re not talking atmosphere in the sense of ambient noise and background music you might hear in a haunted house. I mean a prevailing texture to the music that, no matter what direction a song is going, still fits into the whole of the album. Their nature as dark power metal comes through so clearly. I’m almost surprised at this, as Attila Dorn’s voice on lead vocals has a richness and warmth that you wouldn’t think fits the dark tones so well. It is at times powerful, belting lyrics with force, then soft, lending a quiet to slower sections that makes it almost gentle. That balance keeps tracks engaging, giving you peaks and valleys of energy. It helps that Powerwolf use this album to go a lot of different directions. They’ve got rocking bangers, melodic stories, and an honest to goodness power ballad that is a work of art. It’s a tightrope to walk, but they make it look easy.
The rest of the instrumentation props up those excellent vocals. The drums are probably the most prominent instrument across the whole album, providing an military like march at the base of the music. The guitar serves as a kind of point/counterpoint to the vocals, matching in melodic nature and keeping the themes of the song while offering it’s own variation. One thing I love in the background of most of the tracks is what I think of as church music. Whether they used an actual cathedral organ or not is up for debate, but the effect is the same, a grand, classical sound that further pushes the atmosphere. Listening through the album is akin to a theatrical experience, like you’re witnessing it first-hand, headphones not withstanding. An added bonus to The Sacrament of Sin is that the deluxe edition comes with an entire bonus album featuring covers of some of Powerwolf’s greatest hits by a wide range of bands and styles. Bands like Battle Beast, Kissin’ Dynamite, and Saltatio Mortis make guest appearances. And I think I like Epica’s version of “Sacred & Wild” more than the original. Is that sacrilege?
I will say that if you’re used to Powerwolf and their large body of work, there is a lot that feels a little too familiar. Their strong points are obvious and the areas they take risks in feel fresh. More of what we love isn’t bad, but it can cause a little burn out. Listening through the full album a few times, I found that the songs that always hooked me and brought my focus hard onto the music were the ones that tried new ideas. The ones that felt like the Powerwolf that I’ve heard through the years didn’t grip me as much. One thing I would like is a bit of diversity of focus. As I’ve said, Attila Dorn’s vocals are excellent and offer a lot of variety on his own, but there are times when it gets repetitive. There’s a similar cadence to how lyrical phrases are structured that feel similar across the album. And with him as the focal point for most songs, you can’t help but notice it more and more. It feels like there is a style that works for them and there isn’t too much deviation from that. I’d like to hear a bit more from the guitar or bass. While present and an important part, the fact that they prop up the vocals means their impact is lessened some. A lengthy guitar solo somewhere might not hurt.
The Sacrament of Sin is an album to lose yourself in. Turn it on and fall into the rich, dark tapestry that the band builds. Similar to an aged whiskey, the more you dig into it, the more you’ll enjoy the depth and complexity on display. From melodic tunes that stick in your head to powerful jams that get your blood roaring, there is a lot to like with this album. I love me some sword and sorcery, dragons and wizards, in my power metal, but sometimes a walk on the dark side can create an exciting balance.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommendations: Unleash the Archers, Beast in Black, Sabaton