It’s finally here. After 6 years of hard work, the world gets to hear Wolfgang Van Halen on his own after serving as Michael Anthony’s replacement for the past 15 years. The lead-up to the debut of Mammoth WVH has been especially high after the passing of Eddie Van Halen, leaving scores of fans wondering how his son will do in keeping the family legacy alive and how it’ll sound overall- will he be heavy in his father’s influence, will he have forged a clear identity for himself musically, so on and so forth. Just the fact that much like Dave Grohl on the first Foo Fighters record, Wolfgang played all the instruments on this record and sang too indicates that this semi-eponymous LP will not be a one-dimensional carbon copy of what came before; but something far more impressive, lively and indicative of the sheer talent that was passed from one generation to the next.
Wolfgang comes out the gate tight and rocking with “Mr. Ed”, complete with a strong and infectious chorus and harmonic-laced riffing and tapping directly in the vein of his father (thus the song title). With the hard crunch of “Horribly Right” you’d expect the vocals to take the form of a Cornellian howl without hearing a single lyric, but Wolf’s easier but nevertheless powerful, melodic voice makes it work to a tee. The push-pull of slick harmony and blasting guitar manifests wonderfully on “Epiphany”, complimented by drums that go from grooving and un-intrusive on “Epiphany” to driving backbone on the arena fist-pumper “Don’t Back Down”. “Resolve” eases things up a bit, nevertheless it’s carried by Wolf’s rock-solid vocal work and the consistent, simple bassline holding things together underneath. “You’ll Be The One” has a bit of a grungy, Foo Fighters vibe; almost like 00’s AOR preserved in a time capsule, refurbished for 2021 and released back onto the airwaves; “Mammoth” meanwhile has tinges of Tool (think “Parabola”) minus the complexity and Sum 41 (think “Fat Lip”) minus the rapping and Hot Topic clothes, but still comes out uniquely and strongly as Wolfgang Van Halen in the end.
“Circles” is by no means a Post Malone cover, but like “You’ll Be The One” unseasoned ears could hear the Grohl vibes percolating in the verses and think it was an album cut from a Foo LP. It’s certainly not to take anything away from Wolfgang, especially on his first record; in addition to his obvious originality he has a knack for taking familiar sounds in rock and doing them better. Case and point, “The Big Picture” is more or less Royal Blood if Mike Kerr had twice the lung capacity while “Think It Over” is a well-balanced exercise in radio-ready polish and hookiness while not veering too far from the hard rock foundations of the rest of the album. “You’re To Blame” is another slammer in the vein of “Mammoth” with a great solo to boot (which is an essential requirement if your last name is Van Halen), meanwhile the strengths of “Feel” lay in more melodic mastery in the chorus and some pretty great drumwork in the verses and elsewhere.
All of these essential elements come together in force in the slow grind of “Stone”, a voluminous encapsulation of the musical being that is Wolfgang Van Halen thus far and a great number to end on if you had to drop a few tracks. It’s not quite over yet though, closing the record out fittingly is “Distance”, one of the singles released some months ago accompanied by an emotional home video montage of Wolfgang and Eddie for a music video. It’s a perfect choice for a finale (or an encore for that matter); a moment of personal reflection for Wolfgang now that he’s proven himself with the rest of the record. Attaching this track at the end with the lyrical context it has not only looks back and puts the past into perspective where Wolfgang finds himself now, but leaves the future, on a musical and a personal note open to infinite possibilities.
If one were to summarize Mammoth WVH on a musical level and beyond, what this album represents is a man coming into his own beyond the legacy of his father. Of course Wolfgang will always keep the Van Halen name alive as best he can, but he didn’t have to take the path he took. He could have lived as a cheap imitation of Eddie Van Halen and milked nostalgia for years to come, or he could have quit music after Van Halen stopped touring to pursue another path or never picked up an instrument at all. Instead, he’s continuing the family tradition but in his own style, and he’s only getting started. One of The 48 Laws of Power states that you should avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes, and while you could say in some sense Wolfgang has done that by pursuing a rock career, with the clear-cut difference from the pack he exhibits on this debut record he has mostly heeded that law and carved his own path in music, one that will lead him to be a full-blown tour de force in the near future.