The Joy Formidable prove that having stadium-sized ambitions needn’t neuter originality.
Ben Hewitt 2013
Wolf’s Law suggests that, however hefty a burden is placed upon our bones, they’ll adjust accordingly to support the load.
And it’s unsurprising that The Joy Formidable have become keen enough believers in the theorem to appropriate it for the title of their second album. If 2011 debut The Big Roar had them pegged as promotion-pushers to rock’s big leagues, patronage from Dave Grohl and support slots with Muse last year must have placed a stadium-sized weight on their skeletons.
Little wonder, then, that Wolf’s Law often finds frontwoman Ritzy Bryan in the midst of existential crisis or bouts of introspective soul-searching.
“Let’s sit and talk and slow things down / Just be our old selves again finally,” she pleads on opener This Ladder Is Ours.
But for all the talk of hankering for safer past climes, there’s scant nervousness to be found in the orchestration: gorgeously classy strings take on the slightest of nightmarish hues, before a whiplash of riffs comes crashing down.
It’s this tightrope between bruised self-doubt and fun blasts of noise that gives Wolf’s Law its emotional heft; a seesaw of seeking salvation and receiving it courtesy of cathartic anthems.
Cholla sees Bryan ask, “What are we doing? Where are we going?” But the boisterous thwack ’n’ thrash turns the chorus into something euphoric rather than moribund.
On Bats, her fretting of “I had a reason, but the reason went away” is given a shot of adrenaline by the bonkers, snot-nosed backing. And while Tendons postures as a love song, it’s as sleazy as it is starry-eyed due to its scuzzy, positively filthy bassline.
Odd spots see them descend into tedium, such as the anaemic balladry of Silent Treatment.
But the genuinely bonkers Maw Maw Song is so brilliant that other dreary transgressions can be forgiven. It’s a meandering beast that encompasses Led Zeppelin-shaped wig-outs, prog-rock detours and a gloriously dumb chorus while Bryan shrieks like a rock priestess over the course of seven minutes.
That track’s a testament to The Joy Formidable’s conviction that having stadium-sized ambitions doesn’t have to neuter your originality. Whatever’s thrown at them next, their bones are unlikely to buckle under the pressure.