Only a little more than a month after the release of their debut full length, Varuna, fans of The Republic of Wolves are in for a treat as the band has released their second EP, The Cartographer. Released on New Year’s Day, the band changes their approach, as The Cartographer is their first release to feature Gregg Andrew DellaRocca on a majority of the lead vocals. His previous role was limited to backing vocals and rhythm guitar, as well as production duties, with one lead vocal track per release. Mason Maggio seems to take his spot, with only one and a half songs with lead vocals here. As the EP was recorded at the same time as Varuna, the different themes that the two songwriters touch on surely had to be the dividing point for which songs would be put on their respective albums. The Cartographer features a more accelerated beat when compared to the band’s previous two releases and also features more insistent percussion and guitar work.
The album begins with the instrumental track, “The Pilot and the Pilot’s Boy.” As you listen, it feels like you are embarking on a substantial journey and the instrumentation is tremendously atmospheric. The track comes to a quick end, as it is only a minute and a half, yet it sets the tone for the album’s adventurous experience perfectly.
The opener segues directly into “Home,” the first proper song on the album. The song begins with a twangy electric riff from lead guitarist Christian Van Deurs. He continues his work as one of the better riff writers in the scene. The knowledge for effects shown on Varuna is expanded here, and “Home” will surely go down as one of his better guitar features. DellaRocca also shows he is just as capable a vocalist as Maggio on “Home.” His voice is noticeably different from Maggio’s. In the chorus, DellaRocca’s voice howls with emotion, assisted by Maggio’s backing vocals, providing the band with one of their first truly memorable chorus hooks. People often compared Maggio to Jesse Lacey of Brand New on past releases and if DellaRocca is comparable to anyone it would have to be Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra fame. The song ends with an acoustic coda, accented with banjo playing as DellaRocca sings, bringing the song to a nice end. Also worth mentioning is Chris Wall’s drumming, which stands with the best performances of the previous two records like on ”Monologues” from Varuna and “For His Old Branches” from the His Old Branches EP.
The following track, titled “Calm Down,” directly contrasts “Home” as it is soft and full of reverb, drawing similarities to “Woolen Blankets” off Varuna. The differences between the tracks are drawn to DellaRocca’s voice and writing, which seems to focus more on family and the pain from loss compared to Maggio’s more mythological story-based approach. Van Deurs also provides some airy guitar work, which lets the song soar.
The next track is the first one released from the album, “Widow’s Walk,” which features Maggio singing the intro in his first solo appearance on the album. If one complaint can be made about the band’s three superb releases, it’s that it would be appreciated to find more balance between the two magnificent songwriters. When one of them sings on a majority of songs, leaving one or two tracks for the other, it leaves the listener missing the other singer’s voice. It is a small complaint and these three releases are some of the best in years, but it is something to hope for on future albums. DellaRocca takes lead again after the dreamy intro, and the song launches into its groove. It’s one of the heavier songs on the album. It’s not quite aggressive in the sense of many of the songs on Varuna, i.e. “Greek Fire” and “Varuna,” which were quite sinister in sound, but more heavy-handed and forceful, punching the listener straight in the mouth. Billy Duprey also delivers his first bloodcurdling scream of the record at the end of the chorus. Van Deurs also provides an impressive tremolo-picked lead riff toward the end of the song, showing off his impressive talent.
It isn’t fair to compare the voices of DellaRocca and Maggio as they both are incredibly talented and powerful singer/songwriters. When one of them takes lead it feels like an entirely different band than when the other is singing. This is just one of the many things that make The Republic of Wolves so exciting, as they are constantly expanding their sound and surprising their fans. “India” is the next song, and it’s the first that features Maggio at lead. This isn’t to say that it sounds exactly like their previous releases though, as it still fits the groove set by the songs leading up to it on the record. This is a testament to how great the duo of writers is, as one can write songs that fit perfectly with the other. Duprey explodes during the chorus, howling over Van Deurs’s riffs. The song is one of the more incendiary in the band’s discography.
Next is “Mirage,” which begins similarly to DellaRocca’s song on His Old Branches, “The Clouds.” Fans should be incredibly excited with this EP, as many enjoyed DellaRocca’s lead songs on the previous releases and craved more. They will surely get their wishes granted with The Cartographer as he impresses again and again. The chorus of the song is incredibly emotive and after the second time it is sung, the band launches into an epic sing-along, featuring all of the members singing in unison under DellaRocca. The ending of “Mirage” is one of the best moments in the band’s history, sure to make it a future fan favorite.
The record ends with the band’s longest song, “The Dead Men Stood Together,” which clocks in at over nine minutes and features three distinct parts. First is a normal song, featuring Maggio singing the verse and DellaRocca on the chorus. Van Deurs delivers yet another notable lead line. Maggio and DellaRocca deliver more compelling lyrics, making them one of the better songwriting duos around. At about the six-minute mark, Duprey’s screams and an explosive triple-guitar finish lead the song into its second part. An instrumental airy piece plays, recalling the beginning of the album. The band shows their incredible sonic knowledge and abilities at production in these non-vocal portions of their albums. The final part, and closing of the album, begins at about seven-and-a-half minutes in. It features DellaRocca singing over his own acoustic playing, and with the cracks in the production, give the portion a demo-like, almost phonographic feel.
The Cartographer is an impressive release for the band, who in just over a year has released 27 songs, making them more productive than nearly any other group in music. The most remarkable part about that is every single song is incredibly listenable and contains enormous replay value. As the band is still independent, their future is unknown until they either sign with a label or release news about their future, but here’s to hoping that this young band continues to make records as amazing as The Cartographer and their previous efforts. It is nearly impossible to compare each of their albums to see which is “better” and it should only be noted that each of their releases is better than a majority of those pumped out by major-label bands. The album, which is downloadable at http://therepublicofwolves.bandcamp.com/ for a pay-your-own-price fee, is a must-buy for fans of the band and for fans of Brand New, Manchester Orchestra, Colour Revolt and good indie-rock.