Lupus Dei opens with a majestic theme, "Lupus Daemonis," with a growled, sinister Latin prayer. "We Take It From The Living" follows and provides the first of many highlights. It's a wry observation on the marketing of metal and a gutsy way to open the album, stating: We came out of dark and fire / from down below / all we need is merchandisers / I want to know...will you die for heavy metal?
Heavy? Certainly not the heaviest. But anthemic as balls and by the end, yes, I agree I would die for heavy metal.
"Prayer in the Dark" sets a more serious tone (as serious as a band called Powerwolf can get) and provides some superb guitars though the repeated "Prayer in the Dark!" is an odd and cumbersome refrain and breaks up the flow of an otherwise excellent number. Likewise, "Saturday Satan" seems to suffer a little from translation as it appears to be a tale of the Devil out for a good time, seducing an unknowing victim. Unknowing, that is, until he calls out "Saturday Satan! I'm the Devil in disguise!" Goofy as it may be, I challenge any listener not to be singing along almost immediately.
"In Blood We Trust" is another zenith on Lupus Dei. Providing a marvelous harmonic vocal chorus and some breakneck percussion, its as straightforward a vampire anthem as you're ever likely to encounter. It merges nicely into "Behind the Leathermask," an ode to more murderous undead. "Vampires Don't Die" is a speed-addled tribute to nosferatu that, frankly, with its Misfits-y "whoah-oh-oh-oh"s, comes across more than a little campy, even for this band. And that's saying something.
"When the Moon Shines Red" quickly rights the ship with some impressive Iommi-esque riffery, operatic vocals and a chorus that, oddly, immediately brings another recent favorite, Volbeat, to mind. And it works wonderfully. "Mother Mary is a Bird of Prey" maintains the momentum and kicks the energy up a notch complementing some great vocal dynamics between verse and chorus with some very effective organ work and superb percussion.
"Tiger of Sabrod" tells the story of the dormant werewolf within and, even moreso than "When the Moon Shines Red," mirrors the Volbeat vocal style and ends up easily ranked as my favorite track on Lupus Dei. The title track closes the album, an energetic bookend to "Lupus Daemonis," the werewolf having traveled from demon to deity, and provides an amped-up and overblown exit to an, overall, magnificent album.
I haven't yet heard Powerwolf's other albums (Return in Bloodred-2005 and Bible of the Beast-2009 - they're both available only as imports in the U.S. and were both immediately purchased after hearing Lupus Dei). Checking samples on Youtube and the band's site, though, it's safe to say Powerwolf is offering a very consistent product, both in terms of quality and subject matter, and in this respect they bring to mind the mighty Amon Amarth and, of course, the masters of the genre, Blind Guardian. One has to wonder how deep the well may be for werewolf material but, frankly, when it's this much fun - and sounds this great - I am perfectly happy to turn off the brain, turn up the stereo and simply enjoy.