When The Republic of Wolves formed in the summer of 2009, the idea of creating one of the most anticipated releases of 2010 had to be far from the first thing on their minds. Yet only a year and a half later, anticipation is boiling for the band’s first full-length release, Varuna, which is due for release on Nov. 30.
Varuna, which follows a loose concept of life and death at sea, features extremely well-crafted instrumentation, with the production, which was handled by the band, becoming one of the most outstanding parts of the record. The band, many of whose members are still in college, have an ear for sounds and effects far beyond their years and it shines throughout the record.
The album begins with the title track, which after a quiet intro of 15 seconds launches into a thunderous explosion of three guitars, led by lead guitarist Christian Van Deurs. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Mason Maggio’s voice is at its roughest on this track and it meshes well with the screams of bassist/keyboardist Billy Duprey. The real standout on the track is the drumming of Chris Wall, who mixes speed and technical prowess along with precision.
Following one of the heaviest songs on the record is “Woolen Blankets,” one of the softest. The band’s trademark heavily reverbed vocals are as present here as ever. With the sparse arrangement in the opening of the song, featuring only Maggio’s vocals and clean guitar playing from rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Gregg Andrew Dellarocca, Maggio and Van Deurs, the talent of Maggio’s singing is allowed to be marveled upon. Also notable is his lyrics, which are just as viable as short stories as they are for songs. The breakdown of the song also shows the progression of the band and their knowledge for sounds, as Van Deurs’s solo uses a completely unique effect.
“Oarsman,” the first single from the album, is fourth. Van Deurs delivers yet another infectious lead riff in the intro. The song also features a more collaborative singing approach than anything found on His Old Branches. With verses sung by Maggio, the pre-chorus by Dellarocca, a chorus split between the two and a breakdown featuring screams by Duprey, it’s one of the more diverse songs on the album. Duprey’s screams are massive and they make the song a perfect calling card for the band, touching on every element of their talent that makes them great. The outro is also an addition missing from the music video, showing Van Deurs’s banjo ability along with some delicately sung lyrics from Maggio.
The next track is “Pitch and Resin,” which features Maggio singing tenderly over banjo and drums. Maggio’s voice was frequently compared to Jesse Lacey’s, of Brand New, on the EP. While there are evident similarities between the two bands, mainly location and genre, the comparison should be put to rest after the release of this album. While they have similar voices, Maggio makes a name for himself as one of the better singers and songwriters hailing from Long Island, and performs very well on this track.
The longest track, “Monologues,” is next. The song features almost Radiohead-esque production, circa Kid A era. The first third of the song features normal song structure, until the three minute mark, where Wall delivers tremendously rapid cymbal runs and the production is given a warped effect. This is followed by the paired clean singing and screams of Maggio and Duprey again. The ending section of the song is entirely instrumental and screams the inspiration of Radiohead. It’s one of the highlight tracks on the album.
The longest track is followed by the shortest, “Tuez Le Tous, Dieu Reconnaitra Les Siens,” which translates to “Kill Them All, God Will Know His Own.” The song benefits from incredibly potent imagery found in Maggio’s lyrics. Maggio sings of a creature from underwater, possessing a “sea-weed beard,” and tenderly sings “And I would like to see you at your worst. What’s your worst?” Despite being the shortest song on the album, it’s one of the most poignant songs on the record. The outro gives the sentiment of mutiny at sea, with the sounds of chains and stomps.
This is followed by the most abrasive song on the record, “Greek Fire.” Maggio sings sinisterly and with the snakey guitar lines from Van Deurs, the deafening drumming from Wall and the violent screams of Duprey, it’s normal to feel worried as the song comes to a crashing end.
This is followed by a ballad similar to “Woolen Blankets,” titled “The Attic.” Dellarocca takes lead vocals on this track and his voice features an especially unique accent. His voice is tremendously catchy and makes the track a favorite on the album. Lyrics touch on a family keeping the coffin of a deceased family member in the attic. With Dellarocca and Maggio singing together towards the end of the song, the emotion in their voices rips through the record.
“Grounded, I Am Traveling Light,” is 11th and, like “Oarsman,” showcases the range of the band. Van Deurs delivers another crafty guitar line and the track displays the dual singing of Maggio and Dellarocca.
The closing nine minutes of the album features “Tanzih” and “Tashbih,” which are the Islamic principles of “transcendence” and “nearness” to Allah. “Tanzih” is the heavier of the two, featuring militaristic drums and screams from Duprey. This contrasts, much like the true meaning of the songs’ titles, the atmospheric lightness of album closer “Tashbih.” Maggio proclaims “I couldn’t have known,” repeatedly before the instrumental closure of the track and the album.
The Republic of Wolves was given the tag and expectation of being one of the most promising new bands around and with Varuna, they don’t just live up to the hype. They exceed it and create one of the most gorgeous, uncompromising records of any band, regardless of age. While they remain unsigned, this band continues to crush expectations and they make a name for themselves, without any help from the outside.