German Metallers Powerwolf Are at Their Grandiose Best on ‘Call Of The Wild’
Songwriter and guitarist Matthew Greywolf talks about the “visual album”, launching merch and researching for character-centric tracks
Released in September, German metal band Powerwolf’s album Call Of The Wild packs in so many stories with mythic characters borrowed from fiction and carries it off with the air of an epic. So it’s no surprise to hear guitarist and songwriter Matthew Greywolf call it a “visual album.”
Anchored in their now-signature style of heavy metal, Powerwolf go from strength to strength across 11 tracks, singing about beasts, werewolves and even rats. They took their message one step further with merchandizing. A limited-edition Call Of The Wild came with a wolf bust made out of resin, bearing the Latin phrase “Lupus Vobiscum,” which translates to “wolf with you.”
The idea for a two-kilogram bust — which is now sold out — packaged with an album for fans is not outlandish for Greywolf. “In the beginning, it’s always like a weird idea. It was like, ‘Whatever it takes, I want to have it,’” he says with a laugh. It took them two years to execute the idea, right after the release of their previous album The Sacrament of Sin . Greywolf adds, “I still have the first prototype here, which actually looked ridiculous.”
He likens these sort of “extra projects” to the band nurturing their inner children. “It’s like being a kid that could develop their own action figure. It’s like a dream come true,” he adds. While it might seem indulgent, it certainly keeps their fans in mind, while not straying too far from the band’s fantastical universe.
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Greywolf discusses the making of Call Of The Wild, their bonus album Missa Cantorem [featuring guests from bands such as Soilwork, Trivium, Arch Enemy, Amon Amarth and more] and making heavy music that’s accessible. Excerpts:
Rolling Stone India: What does it feel like making an album in this backdrop of the pandemic? How did it affect the processes and even the output?
Matthew Greywolf: Well, artistically, I would say the pandemic did not have an influence on the album. We just refused to let the pandemic influence what we creatively do, because to us, the world of Powerwolf is this creative world, like an escape from real life.
I would say we managed pretty well to more or less leave out the circumstances of the outside world in the process of writing and arranging the album. As you can imagine, when it came to the actual studio production, things were a bit different and logistically, and there had been challenges.
We recorded the main parts of the album in Netherlands, and therefore, we would have to leave Germany to go to the Netherlands. Actually, two days before the recording would start, we did not know yet if we could travel or not. The borders might be closed. And so it was all kind of an adventure. We just had the attitude, ‘Let’s go for it.’
Working with Jens [Bogren, producer], was he with you traveling?
He was working remotely in the background. We recorded in the Netherlands… originally we wanted to work with Jens in Sweden but it became clear pretty soon that traveling to Sweden would be pretty much impossible. So we switched to the Netherlands and worked with Joost van den Broek, who also is responsible for the orchestrations and these kinds of parts on the album. We had Jens remotely and he came in for the mix which he did in Sweden. We’d been connected via Zoom. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning but we got used to it pretty quickly.
There’s so much packed into this record. Can you tell me about how much you end up holding back if you do that at all? How do you not go overboard when you’re Powerwolf and always constructing these grandiose songs?
I see what you mean. Indeed, this is one of the main challenges when it comes to the mix of the album, to balance the ingredients. In the mix, we skipped lots of things… we had to thin out orchestration sometimes, just to not overcrowd the song, so to say. This album is very dense in details, it was a very hard process to decide on things to be left out and how things would be balanced. I think we found a very good way to balance these.
We’re basically a metal band, and it’s the song that counts. The orchestration is like flavor in the soup, but it’s not the soup itself. Jens is actually one of the best when it comes to things like that. It was quite pleasurable.
Is it tougher to roll back some of the elements as you’ve gone along making more music?
I must admit, it kind of increased on the last two albums. When we expanded the, let’s say, cineastic feel of things. There are way more details in the songs than there were five or six years ago. Back then it was still a bit easier. But at the same time, I feel like including all these more orchestral colors… the album really benefits from these things.
To me, Call Of The Wild is almost a visual album. There are so many scenes that come to mind when you listen to it.
There’s a lot of cool characters that you’ve created on Call of the Wild. Like Beast of Gevaudan (Jayvodan), Varcolac and Reverent of Rats. They are based in history, but do you think you’ll ever have a plan for these characters in a Powerwolf video game or something?
Well, that would be awesome. We have not ventured into this yet. One day, this might be a very nice kind of thing. I think it’s already two years ago that we released our board game, which was crazy fun to realize. I actually never thought about that, but this game developer contacted us and he just did his adventure. He was awesome. So maybe a video game would one day be a fine thing. Especially with the background of Call Of The Wild, where, as you mentioned, a couple of songs deal with actual historic beast legends.
How do you decide on the stories and the characters which get adapted into Powerwolf songs? How do you decide what is a good fit?
That’s a very good question. We’re constantly reading stuff, out of personal interest. I’m a total nerd for this kind of literature… researching historic literature and interesting stories. I don’t do it for Powerwolf so much as it’s my personal hobby. And every now and then, you stumble across a story where you think, ‘This is just perfect material for a Powerwolf song.’ For example, “Beast of Gévaudan” is crying to be a Powerwolf song [laughs].
But then again, sometimes it takes quite a while until you will have the right musical idea for it. I stumbled across the story of Beast of Gévaudan almost 10 years ago. I took a note and underlined it. I had this note in my studio and it took years. These kinds of stories just need their time. Call Of The Wild had three of these songs that tell historical stories — “Beast of Gévaudan,” “Varcolac” and “Blood for Blood.”
You’ve probably got to that stage where sometimes fans come up to you and offer stories that might fit for songs?
Yeah it does. Lots of fans are sending us interesting things. That’s a great kind of interaction; getting some inspiration from fans. Maybe one day they will recognize their hint in a song. That’s just like the kind of direction I really like about the heavy metal scene.
When you make this kind of heavy music that’s also friendly and accessible, do you get people who like it even though they might say they don’t enjoy metal?
Actually, yes. And I take it as a big compliment. A lot of people actually say, ‘Usually, I don’t get into metal, but I get into Powerwolf.’ This shows, being a songwriter, you know that a good song is a good song. If you play very hard, or if you play it a little more soft, it just doesn’t matter.
What can you tell me about the bonus album Missa Cantorem, which came out in July?
The idea was a pretty spontaneous one. In the beginning, it was not even the idea to create a whole album with it. At the beginning of 2020, right before a pandemic situation started kicking in, we’d been touring South America, with Amon Amarth. One night, after a few beers, we thought, ‘Come on, let’s imagine how it would sound if Johan [Hegg] would sing our song “Nightside of Siberia.” It’s a song which has a bit of an Amon Amarth vibe. After a few more beers, we went and asked him and he said, ‘Yes of course, let’s go for it.’
A few weeks later, we heard the version he had recorded and we were so overwhelmed by it. We just said, ‘Come on, let’s ask a few more singers we like and we are friends with. Let’s just see what happens.’ And that’s what we did. And here we are with a whole album with like 10 high class and unique singers singing Powerwolf classics. I’m pretty happy with the project.
Lastly, what have you heard about the scene in India and have you had any offers to perform here in the past?
I must admit that, so far, I know very little about the scene in India. I don’t know if we ever got any kind of proposal to play in India.
But of course, one of the greatest privileges of our job is that we get to know so many countries. We have never been to India and it would be a dream come true one day, playing at a festival or leading a tour. It’s one of the greatest things, to meet metal fans all over the world.