When the Wolves Return
Ego Likeness are a rarified quantity, both by virtue of how uncommon bands carrying the banner of American darkwave are, and by that genre’s niche within a niche nature. The duo made up of Stephen Archer and Donna Lynch have certainly demonstrated a great deal of stylistic agility over the years, segueing handily from their more gothic early catalogue to the sturdy mix of electronics and chunky guitar that defines their latest release, riding the ever-hazy line between goth and modern industrial to consistent effect. When the Wolves Return is as good as anything the band have yet produced, and serves handily to highlight their numerous strengths across its 12 tracks.
A significant amount of what makes Ego Likeness work for a broad cross-section of trad goth-industrial listeners is exactly how bold and driving their production choices are. Where they’re certainly capable of playing things back when they need to, this LP finds vocalist Lynch and healthy amounts of guitar right at the forefront of the mix. As a choice for their material, it’s appropriate; Lynch might open the record with more delicate intonation on “Leave a Light On Thomas”, but that soon gives way to a more sweeping and dramatic delivery, both multi-tracked and as a single voice set against Archer’s processed chording. The electronics are still here driving most of the album’s songs, but with the exceptions of a few assorted breakdowns geared to emphasize the guitar and vocals’ absence and build anticipation for their return, synths and programmed drums are kept tasteful and largely away from the spotlight.
It’s exactly what Ego Likeness’ songs demand and what keeps the record moving throughout. The album’s best moments like the dynamic “Oracle” are replete with all the smart programming and arrangement touches that separate actual songs from loose collections of verses and choruses, but it’s the way Lynch interacts with the blasts of guitar that give the songs their juice, their vitality. It’s a story that plays out again and again, on “Darkness” where the build and release dynamic depends on some chug to put it over the top, to the more subtle charms of the slower paced “Crossed”, where changes in vocal mood and timbre are signalled by the placement of each blocky section of distorted six string.
Where so many 15+ year acts lose themselves in what they can do, Ego Likeness choose to work a specific and rich mode of delivery throughout When the Wolves Return, and the record is better for it. Knowing who you are and what you’re trying to do is an underrated quality in a band, a self-assured act who are good at fulfilling the remit they set out for themselves can accomplish far more than an act who are switching it up just because they have the opportunity. Paradoxically, that focus is what gives Lynch and Archer’s material a broader appeal, by sticking close to their most graspable sound they never dilute themselves. It’s a good look for a band in their position, confident and unmistakably themselves.