It’s almost impossible, as a normally-aspirated human being from a ‘normal’ family, to imagine the sort of pressure somebody like Wolfgang Van Halen comes under when electing to follow in the footsteps of one’s decidedly non-normal father. The pressure of one own’s hopes and fears, the pressure of not wanting to let the family name down, the pressure of a waiting world slavering at the bit to either adore or ridicule… It’s any wonder at all our hero gets up in the morning, let alone constructs a set of very palatable rock n’roll.
For that, at the end of the day, is what he’s done with Mammoth II. Tracks like opening brace Right and Like A Pastime belt out of the speakers without making much of an impression; Modern radio-friendly metal is what you get, and as an increasingly bolshie WVH has said in the press, you can take it or leave it. I’ll leave it, thanks, especially in view of some of the other rather splendid material that crops up later in the album.
Another Celebration At The End of The World is the first of the belters, a fast-paced n’bratty slice of punky rock n’brawl that really sets the pulse racing, but it’s the excellent duo of Miles Above Me and Take A Bow that really pull the listener in for the first time. More ‘alt.’ perhaps than some old time VH fans might like or expect, this is the sound of an artist reaching out and finding the sweet spot. Van Halen has a pleasantly capable singing voice absolutely suited to this kinda stuff and, when coupled with some extraordinary guitar playing on the latter track you find yourself warming to the task of warming to Mammoth II; With material as good as this manifesting itself in your earholes that task really isn’t hard.
The second half of the album starts much like the first as weighty guitars hammer away at the senses. Optimist isn’t a bad track by any stretch of the imagination, but it just fails to capitalise on the momentum created by the previous three tracks, so it’s lucky that the more direct, spritely I’m Alright follows to set things back on a more even keel. The superb harmony vocals and lead guitar lines prompt memories of US psych popstrels Jellyfish in their pomp – heavied up a bit, pleasingly – and it’s not too much of a fantasy to suggest that Wolfgang’s father might have come up with something as delicious as this had he lived to record a solo record. It’s that good.
Erase Me finds itself wandering a little too far into pop rock territory for this reviewer, though it’s impossible to deny the song’s power-popping drive and melodic attraction; Strangely enough, the album’s second most lightweight track carriers one of it’s most impassioned vocals, but that’s a counterpoint that works well within the scheme of the album, enabling WVH to continue to add light and shade to the mix in roughly equal measure. And throw in some more saliva-inducing tapping, natch…
Penultimate track Waiting is perhaps a bit too similar to Erase Me in feel, almost merging in a maelstrom of indie rock fragility, but closing track Better Than You ends with epic pretensions rooted in the music that perhaps influenced Edward and Alex more directly than Wolfgang; The Beatles are an obvious touchstone here, as well as perhaps, The Kinks (and, once again, that Jellyfish feel permeates the track, an occurrence you’ll never hear me complaining about), with the song traversing across the last fifty years of music history with real poise and an adroit touch that adds grace to the sturm und drang. A heady mix indeed.
Not totally outstanding, then, but Mammoth WVH have made massive and very enjoyable strides since their debut. If, as seems necessary, we’re all watching Wolfgang’s evolution as an artist in real time, whether we or he think that’s a good thing or not, then at least the signs are we’re all in for one hell of a ride. I can’t wait to see what the man comes up with next.
Mammoth II releases on August 4th