How many lovelorn ballads – power or not – does a band have to sing until they’re not a rock band anymore? For Filipino four-piece St. Wolf, the answer is more than half of the 11 songs on their major label debut ‘Temple’, a record that’s a messy listening experience full of songs written like they were Frankenstein-ed from various genres (and not necessarily the best bits ).
St. Wolf have excelled as a live act. With immense stage presence and a slick look that also translates to glossy music videos, their shows are so full of energy and sincerity. They offer punk kineticism while drawing on the grooves of dance rock. The interesting parts of ‘Temple’ are those tracks that sound like they were deliberately crafted as live vehicles feeding off the energy of a raucous crowd. Fusing neo-soul, R&B, post-punk, classic rock and dance rock while standing in the long shadows of INXS, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, or even Imagine Dragons is not easy, but when St. Wolf aim true their arrow does decisively hit the bull’s eye.
‘Am I Enough’ is a great choice to open proceedings, the vocal incantation at the beginning almost passing for an acapella group on synth steroids. It gleefully morphs into a theatrical rock melody, the song hammered deeper into the listener’s brain through Bob Sadural’s full-bodied drums as sinewy power chords frame the “pa pa papa param pa” vocal hook.
Any new ideas here? A few, but they come in spite of the band’s pursuit of a “swabecore” – or “smoothcore” – sound. Blending emotive soft rock and aggressive, chest-beating riffs is a mission statement that sounds intriguing on paper, but not in the studio. ‘Fall’ is the only song where St. Wolf’s “is it a rock song, is it a ballad?” teasing works. Despite the prickly, awkward vocal phrasing and the instrumentation sounding like a lazy R&B backing loop, what saves it from mediocrity is the guitar bridge – an atmospheric trip that summons images of sci-fi romance and spectacle.
‘Lapastangan’ feat Calix is the diamond in the ‘Temple’ rough. An epic that fulfils the band’s ambition of a good time on the dancefloor while remaining heavy enough for rock fans, it conjures an infectious, hip-shaking groove. The rapper Calix’s feature adds more flavours to an already robust stew.
The rest of the tracks stand at the weird intersection between OPM power ballad, dance track, and rock song. With its stock sound library beat and slick production, ‘Luhang Umaapaw’ sounds like a jingle penned according to a list of requisites from an ad agency; it’s a low point on the album. For fans of OPM balladry there are some songs here that wouldn’t be too out of place on a Martin Nievera or a Christian Bautista album – except without the vocal range and power.
St. Wolf got their name from a belief that everyone has their gentle (or ‘saintly’) and savage (or ‘wolflike’) side. In trying to feed both sides, they end up watering down the intensity of, well, everything. Who wants to listen to an anaemic rock song with tired blues-based riffs, or a fumbling OPM power ballad on Filipino ‘hugot’ culture with average vocals?
‘Temple’ has a few highlights, but overall it is a debut by a “rock” band that’s still seeking a clear creative lodestar. Right now they are neither savage enough lupine nor holy enough paragon.
- Release date: October 29
- Record label: Warner Music Philippines