By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
COMPANY OF WOLVES – COMPANY OF WOLVES (1990)
In terms of the peak of the 80’s metal years, I’d venture to say that 1990 was the year the sadly inevitable slide downhill began in earnest. As we all know, by 1992 or so the music scene was all about the Seattle grunge sound. Still, even if the metal movement wasn’t quite as strong as it had been in the mid-to-late 1980s, there was plenty of good music being released.
Unfortunately, more than a fair share of it seems to have gone relatively undiscovered. If not by the public at large, certainly by me. Such is the likely case for why I can’t recall ever having heard anything from the band Company of Wolves. While the name seemed familiar to me, I couldn’t recall any of their music from this release, their debut album.
Now that I’ve done a little research I’ve found that they had at least two videos for songs on the album. You can find those pretty easily enough on YouTube. But the best part of finding these albums that I’ve never heard before is discovering that there’s a really great collection of tunes to be listened to for the very first time.
The album opens with what I’m guessing was the lead single. The song is “Call of the Wild” and it is one of the two videos the band has out there in cyberspace. Company of Wolves has a blues rock oriented sound and the song opens with a kind of tame/slow southern bluesy drawl from guitarist Steve Conte. After that intro, the more rocking nature of the tune is set into motion right quick and I found it to be just a really cool track. It’s got that instantly memorable chorus that you can sing along to (shhh…I eventually did just that…even with my rather spectacular inability to carry a tune). The solo is rather electric and it is just one of those very cool tracks that become an instant focal point for the listener.
Each of the two sides has six songs on it and on Side One, the band follows up that great opening track with two more rockers in “Hangin’ by a Thread” and “Jilted!” The two tracks are pretty darn good and help make for a eminently strong opening trio of songs.
The second song that the band made a video for is “The Distance”. The song has a mid-to-uptempo pace, alternating each as kind of a stop and start point. Musically speaking, I thought the song was golden but I could honestly take or leave the lyrical content.
Singer Kyf Brewer has a great voice here but sometimes what he was singing just didn’t resonate all that strongly with me. Of course, when he and the rest of the band are “on”, they turn out some great music like “Romance on the Rocks” and the Side Two opening track “Hell’s Kitchen”. Brewer’s vocal on the latter track is particularly noteworthy. On the song “I Don’t Wannna Be Loved”, the lyrics are of a more ballad like nature, but the delivery of them gives the song a more rocking intensity.
On most albums, I find myself having a preference for the last song to be a hard charging rocker in order to finish things off in an adrenaline charged climactic way. But on occasion, a band finishing with a slower kind of calming track works better and I think that song “Everybody’s Baby” accomplished that task in fine fashion.
For my money, aside from “Call of the Wild”, the best example of a rocker summing up the band perfectly is the song “My Ship”. Fast moving and crackling with energy to burn, the song is an out and out killer song.
I’d venture to say that I’m not the only one who missed out on this band and album when it was originally released given that it was their only release before they split up. But even now, nearly 30 years after the fact, the Company of Wolves album amply demonstrates that even in the twilight of the “Metal Years”, there was some prime hard rocking music to be found. It might be a missed opportunity for me from back in the day, but listening to this album now brings me back to that prime musical fandom time of my life and leaves me wanting a whole heck of a lot more.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Though the band split up in 1992, there has apparently been some kind of reunion shows done in the past and according to their Facebook page, there may be more shows and an album re-issue yet to come. You can check out their Facebook page by clicking HERE.
Though Company of Wolves only released their self-titled album before splitting up, they have had two other albums released after the band ended. The first one was a collection of demo recordings from before their first album called Shakers and Tambourines. The second (third overall) was put out in 2001 and is called Steryl Spycase. It features all new material. Both albums, as well as band shirts, appear to be available via http://www.ryfrecords.com
Singer Kyf Brewer has gone on to a solo career in music as well as playing in bands such as Barleyjuice. You can read more about him at his website http://www.kyf.com
Guitarist Steve Conte has played with a wide variety of artists before and after his time with Company of Wolves. The list includes Peter Wolf, Maceo Parker, Suzy Quatro, The New York Dolls and Michael Monroe. He’s also worked on music for anime TV series and with his own solo bands. You can learn more about him (and his brother John Conte who was the bassist for Company of Wolves) at http://www.thecontes.com, though it doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2013.