Unless you're one of the small number of people who are devout fans of power metal, the term tends to lead you towards the ludicrous. Power metal is an exercise in excess, the kind of metal that doesn't ask why it's so over the top, but rather asks why the top is so low. While there are heavier strains of the music, the common denominator is that it's the kind of stuff 'true' metalheads are loathe to admit they have a soft spot for. To be fair, the reputation for being ridiculous is well-deserved, and Powerwolf wears that like a badge of honor. They are as over the top as any power metal band in the world, mixing horror movie imagery, cinematic orchestration, and an operatic approach to their musical murder spree that no one else can quite match.
Back for their fifth album, Powerwolf has reached the point where the gimmick has worn thin for casual fans. There's a limit to how much schtick can be utilized before the joke tires out, which makes each Powerwolf album a balancing act. If they aren't careful, they will teeter off the edge.
Oblivious to the concept, “Amen & Attack” opens not with a slow burn, but with a crescendo of Attila's operatic wailing. No band embraces being ridiculous quite this much, although it is hard to tell at times just how tongue-in-cheek they are. Regardless, the one thing they know how to do better than anything else is write metal hymns, the kind of songs intended to be shouted by a chorus of riled up warriors heading into battle to slay the dragon. They've done better in the past, but it's a rousing number, and I particularly love the deft little touch where the guitars drop out and let the organs have a few seconds in the spotlight right before the choruses hit. They're the types of minor details that build the drama.
“Preachers Of The Night” focuses more on religious imagery than previous Powerwolf albums, which leads to a curious perception issue. The bits of Latin running through the lyrics, as well as the topics themselves, are all better suited to the sound of the metal Powerwolf makes than ware-wolves and blood ever were, but it's almost too on the head to take anything but seriously. The space between the literal and the intended has narrowed, making the album feel far more serious than I'm sure it really is.
Putting that minor aside behind us, what's most important is whether Powerwolf is able to deliver the metal anthems we're expecting from them. On that level, they've peppered the bulls-eye. Songs like “Coleus Sanctus” and “Sacred & Wild” are as massive as any sing-along Powerwolf has ever written. They're the sorts of songs that you can easily imagine in the background of the latest Hollywood waste of $200 million.
I'm not sure about the wisdom of including so many non-English lyrics on the album, because they blur my focus just enough that picking out some of the lyrics I should be able to understand becomes more difficult. It doesn't change the songs, but it changes my reaction to them.
There are a couple of tracks that don't quite work, namely the comparatively small sounding “Cardinal Sin”, but “Preachers Of The Night” is a solidly consistent album. From beginning to end, Powerwolf delivers a record with song after song that screams to the heavens. It's not dissimilar to the recent Sabaton works, except Powerwolf makes that band look tame.
Powerwolf has spent their entire career over the top, and “Preachers Of The Night” may be their biggest statement yet. Five albums into their careers, Powerwolf has shown there's plenty of life left in the gimmick, and they are far from done leading the way when it comes to making power metal bigger in sound and scope than ever before.