Being related to a famous musician can make it hard to start your own endeavors and step out of the shadow of an established legacy, but Wolfgang Van Halen has arguably done just that over the last few years. After playing a pivotal role on what would become Van Halen’s final album in 2012 and working with Mark Tremonti, Wolfgang released his first solo effort under the name Mammoth WVH in 2021. This project pays tribute to Van Halen’s original band name Mammoth, but musically explores hard rock through a modern lens with a sound that captures elements from throughout the 90s and 2000s. The self-titled effort generated quite a bit of buzz, and two years later Wolfgang has returned with a sophomore effort. Once again paying tribute to his father’s work by naming the album Mammoth II (similar to Van Halen II), this one trims some of the fat off the material and goes for a mix of heavier instrumentation alongside some melodic moments. It’s a fantastic effort from front to back that captures everything great about hard rock from the past two decades, but that doesn’t come across like a mere retread of what’s been done before.
Mammoth WVH’s overall approach hasn’t changed that significantly from album one, meaning you’re not going to find any sudden shifts into full-on metal or other genres. But Wolfgang has refined his approach to riff oriented hard rock, trimming down the length of the material and switching things up stylistically a bit more frequently. There are still some songs that blur together slightly over repeat listens due to the similarity of their structures, but compared to the debut I found a few more individual tracks that stood out. The tonality skews towards the heavier side earlier on, as the first three songs really lean into denser bass grooves that work alongside the guitar and drums to provide that thump directly to the chest. At times this gave off a grittier, heavier take on something like Velvet Revolver or Audioslave but still with a vibe of its own, and the riffs manage to hook you right from that first listen. Mammoth WVH transitions over to something a bit lighter and bouncier on “Miles Above Me” and “Erase Me”, which head into alternative rock territory and let the melodies drive things. “Miles Above Me” even has some 80s AOR type hooks that sounds like a merging of older rock ‘n roll meets new, and that makes it a highlight. Like a lot of hard rock these days, quite a few of these songs are likely to remind you of a slew of other bands, but everything comes together in a way that doesn’t feel like a retread and Wolfgang has the hooks to back it up. Songs like “Like a Pastime”, “Take a Bow”, and “I’m Alright” have the type of big booming riffs that instantly get stuck in your head, and they would’ve been in regular radio rotation had this album come out a decade or so earlier. I do think that both “Take a Bow” and “Better Than You” are just a little too long, but this is a minor flaw for an album that’s this catchy and replayable.
There’s likely to be a lot of continued focus around the fact that Wolfgang plays all the instruments on Mammoth II, but this shouldn’t overshadow how strong his singing is. Where other multi-instrumentalists would outsource the vocal portion of their material, that’s not the case for Mammoth WVH and his voice soars over the recording with equal amounts of grit and airiness. “Like a Pastime” immediately grabs your attention with powerful yet melodic singing and backing harmonies that add a bit more of a pop flair over top of the lumbering base. Sometimes the tone gets a bit grittier, and that’s where a lot of the material is likely to bring 2000s hard and alternative rock to mind, but I appreciate that he is able to lighten up to match what the instrumentals are doing even if it does come off as a tad bit generic.
Wolfgang Van Halen established a strong foundation to build from on his debut as Mammoth WVH, but this follow-up tweaks it in ways that result in a better overall listening experience. Mammoth II is a bit more compact with plenty of vocal and guitar hooks that will get stuck in your head almost immediately, and while there are still a few generic choruses and tracks that run together the quality here has kept me coming back regularly. It’s hard to stand out in the rock space in 2023, but Mammoth WVH does just that and has delivered one of the finer albums in the genre that you’ll find right now. Mammoth II is available from BMG.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg