Pressed to golden cassette with an eight-panel j-card in an edition of 150 copies by Caligari Records, the eight-track debut long-player from ’70s-styled Copenhagen five-piece Demon Head, titled Ride the Wilderness, seems way more concerned with going back to the source material than taking inspiration from modern practitioners. By which I mean it’s more Pentagram than Witchcraft. That distinction would probably seem minute to some ears, but it makes a difference in the listening experience on Ride the Wilderness — which in addition to the Caligari tape has been released on tape in the EU by Smokedd Productions, on CD via This Charming Man and Wolfbiker Records and on vinyl through This Charming Man — as it did on Demon Head‘s two 2014 releases, Demo 2014 (review here) and the Demon Head b/w Winterland (review here). Three songs from that demo are repurposed here, one of them being “Demon Head,” and “Winterland” appears on the album as well, so those who’ve caught onto the band’s energetic take on classic-style proto-metal will no doubt find some of the material familiar, catchy as those songs are, but all seem to have been re-recorded, and for what it’s worth, one of the 46-minute offering’s greatest strengths is its front to back flow, which even split into two sides with a pause between side one and two, as on the tape, rests easy on a bed of rolling grooves, ’70s swing, natural tonality and resonant hooks.
“Undertaker,” “Winterland” and “Ride the Wilderness” all appear on side one, with the newcomer “Revelations of April” before the title-track. As it opened the demo, “Undertaker” is no less an introduction here to the point of view conjured by the band — vocalist Marcus Ferreira Larsen, lead/slide guitarist Thor Nielsen, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Birk Nielsen, bassist Mikkel Fuglsang and drummer Jeppe Wittus — with a proclamation-prone Larsen donning the titular role and informing the listener, “I’ve been waiting for you and I’ve been dying to meet you,” in the first of several landmark hooks the record provides. His presence is considerable as a frontman even on the recording, but he’s well met throughout Ride the Wilderness by the swinging groove of Wittus‘ drumming and the alternating between more uptempo boogie and morose, semi-theatrical doom. Much to their credit, at no point to Demon Head sound like they’re not having a good time, and that only adds to the vital spirit of their delivery. Part of that could be youth, but whatever it is, it makes “Winterland” all the more infectious and pushes the roll of “Revelations of April” outward with a sense of something spontaneous en route to the tempo shifts, righteous delivery of the title line and later layered solos of “Ride the Wilderness” that are on their way to calling Graveyard to mind but seem consistently to be on a darker stylistic trip.
That holds true for side two of the tape as well, which is perhaps less immediate than the bash-you-over-the-head choruses of “Undertaker” or “Winterland,” but ultimately the more satisfying of Ride the Wilderness‘ two halves, with three newer cuts where side one had three older ones. “Book of Changes” leads off, followed by the reappearing “Demon Head,” “The Greatest Lie” and the closer and longest cut at 7:20, “Worthless.” No question “Demon Head” is an anchor for the 24-minute side two, but it’s far from the only highlight, with a shuffle emerging on “Book of Changes” from a kind of drawling progression to build to the inevitable slowdown, Larsen calling out the wickedness of man over a quick wash of noise before a return to the winding central figure, and “The Greatest Lie” being the most impressive accomplishment Demon Head present on their debut, an under-five-minute roll that plays to cult cliché brazenly without it mattering and outdoes even the chorus of “Demon Head” before it — no easy feat — with a two-layer hook that comes coupled with Ride the Wilderness‘ best nod and shifts into quirked-up horror thematics in its last minute-plus before making way for the more spacious, slow-crawling “Worthelss,” which keeps to its lumbering pace until there are about two minutes left, then kicks into higher gear to give Ride the Wilderness the raucous finish it deserves, Nielsen topping off with yet another impressive solo as the track fades out to the eventual click back to side one.
It should say something that no fewer than four labels picked up Ride the Wilderness for a release — if nothing else, they come well endorsed — but the strength of the album isn’t in who’s standing behind the songs so much as in the songs themselves. Demon Head make a formidable opening statement with Ride the Wilderness, and with the development they already show between redone cuts like “Undertaker” and “Ride the Wilderness” and newer ones like “Worthless” and “The Greatest Lie,” it will be even more intriguing to find out where they end up their next time out. Planet earth is not short on ’70s stylization whether it’s from Europe or the States, but when Demon Head tell you to Ride the Wilderness, it’s an easy invitation to accept.