The Joy Formidable - Wolf’s Law

Their leaning towards the epic hasn’t been cast aside; it’s just been deployed with more precision.

Label: Atlantic

Rating: 8

Despite being the Hyped Young Things of a few years back, The Joy Formidable have focused on what needs doing and shrugged off what’s beyond their control - and what a blessed relief that is. Their gloriously undefinable blend of noise that hovers about the axis of post-punk, grunge, shoegaze, and alternative rock won them plaudits and a fanbase eager for more even before the release of their first LP, and that thunderous debut had a defiantly lengthy incubation of four years, anointing them as critical darlings when it finally dropped. Fast forward a couple of years of writing, touring, and a stint in a snowed-in cabin in Maine, and the Welsh power-rock trio have returned with the follow up to 2011’s ‘The Big Roar’. Like its predecessor, it brings high romance, symphonic aspirations, and a colossal fucking barrage of noise. Little wonder Muse chose them as support on their recent UK tour.

Self-producing again, ‘Wolf’s Law’ is a predatory leap forward from the impressive but vaguely messy promise of ‘The Big Roar’. ‘Wolf’s Law’ is a tighter, tidier, and tauter proposition, revealing the streamlining of Ritzy and co.’s craft into a sleeker form that keeps their dynamic soundscapes on a leash whilst embracing a wilderness of themes.

That isn’t to say TJF’s leaning towards the epic has been cast aside; it’s just been deployed with more precision. Their signature shifts from soft to loud, delicate to deafening, are still there: ‘This Ladder Is Ours’ unfolds as a sweeping string section that swells to a briefly unnerving, horror-movie crescendo - before launching into four and a half minutes of rushing dream pop. Even the gently stirring seduction of ‘The Turnaround’, complete with shuffling kickdrum, can’t resist eventually dialling the orchestral backing up to eleven.

But it’s not all slathers of multi-layering – moments closer to conventional pop songs in structure and melody grab you by their gleaming hooks. The darkly radiant ‘Cholla’, anchored by Rhydian Daffyd’s fuzzed-out bass, asks ‘Where are we going? What are we doing?’ and invites a punchy sing-a-long. The two-pronged attack of elastic, reverb-soaked slap bass and robo-armed drumming in ‘Little Blimp’ forge a galloping pace with Ritzy Bryan crying out ‘We’ll ride this, we’ll ride this easily / we’ll ride this, we’ll ride this surely’ in total composure against the cacophony. Similarly, ‘Bats’ is straight-up, furious rock, with Ritzy wielding muscular command over massive riffage and her voice playfully teased into distortion. What they lack in depth, they make up for in high-octane fun.

In contrast, the lament of ‘Silent Treatment’ is a break from the sound and fury, spotlighting the unadorned power of Ritzy’s voice: spectral shot through with steel. However, the lasting impact does undeniably come from the reach-for-the-skies aesthetic The ‘Formidable have made their bread and butter. ‘Maw Maw Song’ effectively shows off its theme of material excess and consumption, as an audacious stomper of glitzy, swaggering bombast, driven by Matt Thomas’ switches between fluttering rhythms and heavy poundage, before the whole lot schizoes out into delay for a few minutes in a proggy sort of way. But it’s crashing and anthemic ‘The Leopard And The Lung’ that steals the show: heart-stopping, earth- shakingly beautiful, like nature exploding into a thousand glass pieces, Ritzy and Rhydian’s cooing double-tracked vocals match the delicately resonant piano line, then soar above it.

A record of dazzling scope, in vision and execution, this is the testament of a band who are seething with primal energy and also have the cojones to be leaders of the pack. Its clarity, confidence, and cohesion set it apart from their debut which had room for improvement on those fronts. If ‘The Big Roar’ was the blueprint for their stadium-ready sound, then ‘Wolf’s Law’ is the big fuck-off stadium The Joy Formidable’s built for us all.