Mammoth WVH

Mammoth WVH

EX1 Records, 2021

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Oof. Mammoth WVH is an album that’s heavy in more ways than one.

First there’s the context: Wolfgang Van Halen’s debut solo album was born in the depths of sorrow surrounding his father Eddie Van Halen’s final illness and eventual passing from cancer on October 6, 2020. That context seeps into every nook and cranny of this release, from the name of the band (Mammoth was Eddie and brother Alex’s pre-Van Halen band, to whose name Wolf has added his initials), to track names like “Mr. Ed” and “Mammoth,” to the dedication: “This one’s for you, Pop” overlaid on a heartbreakingly sweet photo of a proud Eddie helping a teenaged Wolf work on his bass playing.

Then there’s the music itself. If you were looking for Van Halen Junior, keep looking. We’re all products of our childhood environment, and Wolf grew up on ’90s and ’00s hard rock. The result is an album that bears more resemblance to Soundgarden or Foo Fighters than original VH—except for the vocals. Vocally, Wolf is a dead ringer for his dad, reminding us that Eddie was the original lead singer of Van Halen and spent decades singing sweet harmonies in the band.

And truthfully, the most amazing thing about this album—besides the fact that Wolf composed, sang and played every note of it himself—is how assured and confident a vocalist he is. You expect Eddie’s son to know his way around guitar, bass and keyboards, and it’s not a stretch to discover that Alex Van Halen’s nephew and erstwhile rhythm section partner is a powerhouse behind the drum kit. But as a vocalist, Wolf is the best in his family, hands down.

The music on Mammoth WVH is melodic hard rock, a description that some might apply to original VH, but Wolf paints with darker colors, forgoing Van Halen’s playful, goofy side for a more serious, even earnest approach. That may in part be a reflection of the nature of these songs and the context they emerged from, but it may also just be what comes naturally for this next generation singer-songwriter.

Opener “Mr. Ed” is pure, hammering hard rock whose most notable elements are a decidedly EVH-style up-the-neck solo, and an in-your-face, confrontational lyric that, paired with the title, suggests that Wolf and Eddie’s affectionate relationship may also have included some of the normal father-son tensions. (Sample: “Really? / Now you’re sorry? / Sadly / Always empty to me.”). The next five songs—“Horribly Right,” “Epiphany,” “Don’t Back Down,” “Resolve” and “You’ll Be The One”—offer variations on the theme of dealing with conflict, all the while deploying the full bag of melodic hard rock tricks: blazing guitars, slamming drums, multitracked vocals and dramatic dropouts, with “Epiphany” adding a notably complex bridge.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Mammoth” continues the heavy musical approach while digging deeper lyrically: “Not okay /
To blame yourself / And lay down and die like everybody else / Not okay / To just give up and walk away… Don’t you know / There’s so much more to live for?” Only Wolf can truly say what the song is about, but it’s hard not to hear parallels to the experiences of a songwriter whose father was dying of cancer around the time this track was written and recorded.

“Circles” kicks off the second half with the first acoustic guitars heard here, leading a haunting power ballad that offers a brief respite before the fat guitars and drums return for the thundering “The Big Picture.” Relationship song “Think It Over” pumps up the melodic side with a rather Gin Blossoms feel, before WVH dials up the decibels again. “You’re To Blame” locks in a bludgeoning riff with a hitch in it as Wolf rails about a very personal grudge of some kind. Maybe it’s creative fiction, maybe it’s about conflict with a friend or lover—but there’s still something eye-opening about hearing the son of a publicly self-destructive addict wail “No one but yourself to blame / Fought so hard but nothing’s gonna change.”

The propulsive “Feel” digs deeper into WVH’s bag of tricks with tricky time signature shifts, a complex arrangement, and a sweet, flashy breakdown/buildup segment. It’s not prog-metal, but it’s not far from it, either. Thoughtful closer “Stone” slows the tempo down for an airy opening, adding subtle keyboard accents and layering on more guitars as it builds to a crescendo.

Bonus track “Distance”—the one song here that feels like it’s explicitly addressed to Wolf’s father—also finds him delivering his most heartfelt lyric: “I’m so happy / You’ve found a place / That’s better for you / Than this rock we’re living on / I’m so nervous / Don’t know my place / A life without you / I’m not ready to move on / No matter what the distance is I will be with you / No matter what the distance is you’ll be okay.”

Are there times along the way where Mammoth WVH starts to feel a little samey, all intense vocals and energetic riffing over a pummeling kick drum assault? Sure. It’s also true that the lyrics sometimes feel underdeveloped, and the scarcity of musical elements other than heavy guitars, bass and drums seems like a missed opportunity. But these are quibbles in the context of the bigger picture: this is a remarkably powerful and accomplished debut album, completely composed and performed by Wolfgang Van Halen, and one that would make his father very, very proud.

Rating: B

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© 2022 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EX1 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.