Back in 2019, I had reviewed his preceding album “Zodiac”, which I had enjoyed as it contained a vast amount of interesting progressive influences, mostly in the instrumental displays, a non-vocal area that I suggested he continue to focus on. Ruud returns with this offering, garnished with another splendid cover from Ed Unitsky and a seven worthy tracks that set the bar higher than ever before. Ruud handles pretty much all the instruments, various keyboards (mostly synths and mellotron), a strong bass underpinning as well as rather impressive guitar skills, both on electric and acoustic versions. He is aided by drummer Kike Paglia throughout the release.
The journey begins with “Repentance”, a raucous, wake-up call opening salvo with chunky riffs galore, reptilian guitar strokes that screech, bellow, and hassle as if kneeling at a shrine in atonement, with featured vocalist Frank van der Borg bellowing his inner pain. It’s a nervous piece, full of piss and vinegar, with a choppy rhythm and an oblique guitar solo to finish of the remorseful outcry.
The extended arrangement on the 8 minute + “Slow Down” initiates a slide guitar rant that might be greasy enough for some fried chicken and grits session with the local Louisianna sheriff, a cool Muscle Shoals influenced keyboard tag along, and a swampy drum beat. And then, it swings into a slow blues reflection that would make Gilmour blush with envy, as the bass and organ indicate a new horizon ahead, reducing speed and contemplating another hot afternoon under the blazing sun. Ruud excels at restraining his fretboard caress, highly evocative and deeply adventurous. Damn, the man can play. A final nod returns to the initial free for all, that had initiated this piece.
Another extended composition, “The True Story” incorporates some simple yet pleasingly dissonant phrasings, some Celia van Onna harmony vocals in the background at first, before grasping the microphone in between ghostly fretless bass flurries, and letting her carry the swirling tune further. This is a track that would fit nicely into more 90s alternative rock sensibilities, not too far from the Cure, Portishead, or Peter Murphy feel, but armed with a more omnipresent lead guitar solo that goes on quite the tear. Another excellent tune.
Three gripping instrumentals follow in quick succession, and frankly, the real core of this release becomes most apparent. The nasty “Howling at the Moon” provides a more direct rock approach, complex and insistent rifferama not withstanding, it’s a spiralling staircase of sound that also possesses a dense appreciation for sustained sonic pressure, a somewhat schizophrenic Stones meet Bauhaus feel. The title track settles into more cinematographic realms, a brooding soundtrack for some undefinable yet perilous excursion, unsure whether to choose introspective or extraverted scenarios. Slithering fretless bass runs a la Mick Karn (always my weakness!), tingling Asian intonations, thrilling percussives, and circuitous keyboard slivers, this could have been on an 80s Japan album, like Tin Drum! The third is the influential “Battlefield”, suggesting a strong visual that meanders into sustained jazz-rock domains before skirting into heavier moods, looping axe runs, howling choir mellotron cascades and that unrelenting bass that just shoves this forward. Ruud experimentation is a true joy to behold, as his mastery of the electric guitar is unquestioned, unafraid to sizzle for extended periods as well as shifting the mood at will. Good show!
The nearly 9-minute finale “Beautifully Broken” settles the issue for me. Ruud is a master musician who does not necessarily need to rely on vocals, especially at the risk of deviating the interest away from his main focus. This was the case on previous albums but here it is smartly dosed as Celia does the final chapter absolute justice. Being a huge fan of female prog voices as they often, comparatively speaking, shine way brighter than the male counterparts. Don’t start a fight here, there are exceptional masculine singers, and we all know who they are! But the ladies always seem to belt it out with sublime effect. This is definitely a more symphonic piece, contrasting glacial effects with a romantic warm mood, superb drumming for added corpulence and a heavenly, gut wrenching and emotional guitar solo that defines this artist to the fullest.
The third time is such a charm, Glorious Wolf becoming an act that has unquestionably arrived at its destination and is very deserving of having a much wider and appreciative audience.
4.5 Odd voyagers