The Grey Wolves – Exit Strategy LP Tesco Organisation 2017
So here we are, 14 years on from the last official Grey Wolves album Division released in 2003. Being many years in the making, Exit Strategy has also been announced as the final album from this long standing and rather revered group, with its release also coinciding with their final live ‘action’ at Tesco Organisation’s 30th Anniversary show in Mannheim in October, 2017. So as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end” – and end they have, but not before this ‘exist strategy’ was devised.
Having spent some time becoming acquainted with Exit Strategy, from the outset there is no way of getting around the fact that the sound of the album is not representative of what would typically be expected from The Grey Wolves. This comment is then made in full acknowledgement that the project has over their 30+ years of activity covered a diverse range of sounds, which has included: atmospheric dark ambient; murky industrial noise; and harsh power electronics. However much of the perception of Exist Strategy not sounding like The Grey Wolves comes down the general cleanliness of the sound and the clarity of the production. This situation would then seem to be somewhat explained by the album’s liner notes that: “Exit Strategy was produced, mixed, mastered with additional audio and artwork by Jerome Nougaillon” (aka Propergol – and perhaps tellingly if Exist Strategy were played to me without being told who it was, chances are I would have said it sounded like the sharp and clinical approach employed by Propergol). So, although far from confirmed, I suspect that Jerome had a central role in the creation of this album, and this may have gone as far as being responsible for reworking and finalising a range of source material and/ or unfinished tracks from the group. Whether or not the truth on how the album was completed comes to light, remains to be seen.
To then speak of the album’s construction and flow, it is an instrumental and soundscape oriented in style and approach. A heavy dystopian mood and cinematic atmosphere permeates the album, where this perception is duly confirmed by the promo blub which states: “The soundtrack to an as yet unmade Hong Kong splatter movie. A seemingly endless march through cinematic urban decay. The original sound reduced to its basic structure through loops, repetition, distortion and other alienation techniques. it’s time to think about an Exit Strategy. The sodium orange hours of the city make you believe in the apocalypse”. Yet given the ‘soundtrack to a non-existent film’ format, there is also a conspicuous absence of the trademark vocals which are without doubt a sorely missed element. But to speak of specifics, the opening track In Our Time is a strong and tensile introduction based around pulsing textures, driving drones, a lone pounding ‘beat’ and mid-toned static shards. The Precinct then steps up a notch in urgency with a shuddering obliquely rhythmic framework with is further coupled with radio chatter for further cinematic effect. Another track worthy of individual mention is In Too Deep with it scattered sweeping textures and sparse programmed ‘Morse-code’ type rhythm. Seizure then deviates completely from a recognized sound, given its hard pounding programmed beats and static blasts resembles a type of industrial techno along the lines of Alberich (and for this reason alone is likely to be the most divisive track on the album). In rounding out the album Flatline uses a prominent movie dialogue sample of Samuel L Jackson, and while for me personally it negatively jars the overarching mood and would have been better excluded altogether, thankfully it is used only once and not repeated (as often dialogue samples tend to be in this type of music). Sonically speaking this track is a tensile blend of jarring (digital?) noise, sporadically rhythmic outbreaks and doom addled atmospheric drones.
Although this review may on face value appear to be overly critical, such commentary should be taken more as observations which highlight the clear differences between initial expectation and the actual reality of the final The Grey Wolves album. Ultimately Exist Strategy IS a strong and enjoyable album in its own right, but can only be acknowledged after getting over the initial expectations of what you may want it to be. So, if you are able to divorce yourself from expectations that this album should be something like The Grey Wolves’ magnum opus, and instead simply approach it for what it is, some excellent material awaits and functions as a sort of unexpected addendum to their established and celebrated legacy.