Review: Mammoth WVH – Mammoth II

It’s a solid fact at this point: if you have the surname Van Halen, you are automatically musically gifted. Jan Van Halen was a jazz saxophonist and clarinetist in swing bands throughout Europe in the 1930s/1940s. His eldest son, Alex Van Halen, is a drummer who formed the legendary metal band Van Halen, alongside his younger brother Eddie, who played the guitar and keyboards. Eddie went on to become one of the greatest and most accomplished guitarists of all time, before his untimely death in 2020. You’d probably think that the musical family tree would just stop there, but we simply can not forget about Eddie’s son, Wolfgang.

After being the bassist for his dad and uncle’s band during the years 2006-2020, Wolfgang now fronts the band Mammoth WVH where, on record, he plays every instrument and writes every song himself. And believe me when I say he does everything because I do mean he does EVERYTHING. His 2021 self-titled debut album was very well received among critics and fans, with many people now hearing for themselves just how musically and stylistically versatile Wolfgang really is, as evidenced by tracks such as Horribly Right, Feel, and Distance. 2 years have now passed since that release, and he is already putting out his highly anticipated sophomore album, simply titled Mammoth II – a record that, right from the get-go, is noticeably much heavier, and yet even more melodic, than its predecessor.

Beginning with the thunderous intro Right?, the listener is thrown headfirst into a fast and punchy song that spares no time at all in getting you adjusted even slightly into the album. “Well oh well, how much longer can you all pretend?/Care to sell any other things you recommend?” are Wolfgang’s first lines on this record, asking all of the questions right away. The solo that appears at the 2:40 mark is just as insane as the solo on his debut album opener Mr. Ed, setting the bar high for the solos to follow. Another Celebration at the End of the World is the perfect choice for the album’s debut single, as it’s a perfect singalong track, full to the brim with some of the tightest instrumentation on the entire record – and god damn, that chord run as it leads into the choruses and that tap solo are just so pleasing to the ears too. The track would make a perfect set opener, with its exciting call-and-response guitar introduction, which would no doubt get the audience’s blood pumping and adrenaline running. The refrain of “Hey now, shout it back to me” is memorable and sounds ready for the crowds to sing back to him when played live.

There are some stand-out tracks on this effort too; in fact, 3 of them all follow each other in tracklist order! Take a Bow, the album’s second single is a 7-minute-long magnum opus that has both heavy and poppy tendencies happening at the same time. The outro to it feels incomplete; it sounds as if the last chord that plays should be the lead on to another section, but instead, it just disappears mysteriously, urging the listener to press play again.

Following up from that is Optimist, which is arguably the most technical piece on II. (Warning: if you don’t know musical gibberish then read on!) The verses all follow a 7/8 time signature that, to the ear, sounds as if it could be 4/4 (until you listen closer) before the chorus resolves it back into normal time. Its Drop D breakdown is insatiably tasty, backed brilliantly by harmonic guitar lines that fluctuate between a major and minor key, creating this sort of dissonant feel. As a musician myself, this track was like heaven to my musical brain.

And last to complete the incredible trifecta is I’m Alright, a track that has the sound and feel of a 70s pop rock song (á la Aerosmith/Status Quo/ELO) thanks to its burst of high octave piano blasts and its powerfully rhythmic drum pattern. In the choruses, Wolfgang sings “Sorry, I’m so sorry/it’s kind of you to say, you just made my day/Sorry, I’m so sorry/it’s kind of you to say/fuck off and back away and let me breathe” which is easily one of the best lyrics on the album – and if not one of the best, then THE best.

It all concludes with Better Than You, which is one of his best songs to date. The guitar riff at the beginning of the song sounds like it’s ready to unleash hell, and it does just that – before long, you’ll be grooving along to its waltz-like rhythm. Wolfgang’s vocal range on this song is second to none; powerful and dynamic as he carries each note delivery with incredible strength, in particular on each of the verses. The chorus is catchy and will stick in your head for days, with its simple yet effective lines “Stronger than you/Smarter than you/Better than you”. There’s a long fade out at the end of this 6-and-a-half-minute-long song, one that feels like an eternity, yet one that also feels as if it should slowly fade back in and continue, but doesn’t quite get there. I’m not sure what else is there to be said about this track, as it’s, in short, the perfect end to a perfect album.

On Take a Bow, Wolfgang sings “And when the lights start fading/Take a bow, it’s over for me” during the chorus – and when I heard this for the first time, it felt as if my heart stopped. I thought ‘How could he pack it all in after 2 incredible records?’ – but then I read an interview where the man himself said that he wants to “keep proving to myself that I can do this… and I can do better each time”. And it’s safe to say that on this album, he has done just that and so much more. If his debut album was the starter, this new record is the main course. If his debut album was a lone seed planted into the ground, this new record is the beautiful flower that blooms from it. Mammoth II proves single-handedly that Wolfgang Van Halen is a force to be reckoned with, and he is one of the best to do it in this current day. If he already wasn’t on your radar before reading this review, then he surely needs to be on it by now.

‘Mammoth II’ is available August 4th via BMG. More information, here.

Review – Joe Richardson

Portrait photo credit – Travis Shinn

Live image credit – Callum Scott

 

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