With an international release this month, Duluth’s Wolf Blood is a band on the verge of making some major noise both home and abroad. Here’s the story of how a doom/psych/stoner metal band from Northern Minnesota found its audience.
Sometimes, as they say, timing is everything.
The flood that ravaged Duluth, Minnesota in the spring of 2012 was devastating. Over 10 inches of rain uprooted trees, collapsed bridges, and created giant sinkholes all over the city. Forced inside due to travel restrictions, roommates Mike Messina and Jake Paulsrud set up their instruments and started to jam. The duo had talked earlier about forming a thrash metal band—the kind of music that immediately calls for circle pits with its fast tempo and aggressive playing. It was clear, however, after the first jam session, that the sounds they were crafting were far more Sabbath than Anthrax. The music they played reflected the landscape: pulsing rhythms with frenzied guitar movements that were seemingly trying to conjure demons from the newly formed cracks in the earth.
After a summer of Duluth flood cleanup came a winter of punishing cold temperatures and late season heavy snowfalls. (I’m often asked how a city of just over 86,000 can produce so many good original acts; well, the truth is that when you don’t want to leave your house for half of the year you can devote more time to practicing.) So, with a relatively clean yet dank basement—the flood did force most residents to clean out their basements, making for many newly created practice spaces—Messina and drummer Paulsrud recruited Paulsrud’s Dirty Horse bandmate, bassist Brian Wells, and the trio spent the winter crafting songs.
After an early gig as a three-piece, Messina knew the band was in need of another guitar to complete their sound. With the addition of Mindy Johnson, of Duluth punk mainstays the Keep Aways, buzz around Duluth started to grow about a fabled act with a heavy sound ready to take the city by storm.
And sometimes it only takes one show to build a legend.
The Duluth Homegrown Music Festival is a city-wide celebration of local music that not only highlights 200 Duluth bands over 8-days, but, to locals, is a harbinger of spring. Day one of the 2013 festival featured a showcase of new acts, and it was on this first night of the festival that Wolf Blood would make their debut. With a packed Pizza Luce crowd excited at the prospect of finally getting to shake their winter blues and experience a spiritual reawakening, Wolf Blood proceeded to bathe the crowd in a proverbial baptism of unholy water and cheap beer. The guttural bass laid the tracks for a show that threatened to go off the rails at any moment. The twin guitar attack churned a crowd that was ready to party on a Sunday night into a frenzied mob head-banging, fist-pumping, and crowd surfing with reckless abandon. And it was Paulsrud behind the kit that kept everyone entranced with his dynamic drumming and vocal performance that sounded like a man screaming for help while drowning in a lake of fire. It was a show that stretched just over an hour but felt more like three, and Duluthians are still talking about it.
Wolf Blood had awoken a desire for metal that some feared was dead in Duluth. After nearly a decade of stages filled with headliners plucking banjos and acoustic instruments, fans continued to come out in high numbers to support Wolf Blood, which in turn helped shine a spotlight on other emerging Duluth acts that sounded more like Slayer than Seeger.
With a handful of songs and a horde of fans demanding recordings, Wolf Blood headed to Sacred Heart Studio (yes, the same place Low recorded a couple of their albums) to lay down their debut record with engineer Jake Larson. The end product sounded different than many contemporary metal albums; the sound wasn’t so much suffused in fuzz, but more like it was recorded underwater. It’s a unique effect that leaves the listener disoriented—and with a need to keep listening to the end, for fear of not making it out alive. The album was subsequently released on cassette with the entire first pressing selling out in a week. The final second run of cassettes, pressed by Duluth boutique cassette label Heat Street Tapeworks, is nearly sold out as well.
So how did a doom/psych/sludge band from Duluth get their album picked up by a renowned label from the Netherlands without ever playing outside of Minnesota? Timing, really, remarks guitar and vocalist Mindy Johnson.
“I uploaded our LP to Bandcamp and within 12 hours we had the attention of Jurgen at Burning World Records… It was on the main [Bandcamp] page when he logged in and he liked the art work so he decided to check it out,” she says. “Later on, after talking with him through email, I asked how he found us and he admitted that he was intrigued that we were from Duluth since he was watching the series Fargo.”
Since the announcement that Wolf Blood would have their album released on vinyl by Burning World Records, the reviews have added up. With metal fans across the globe giving the album praise, the cult status of this band is growing. The group recently completed a successful tour of the Midwest winning over some new diehards. Wolf Blood has a batch of new songs ready to record, so catch them now while they’re still playing the small club circuit.
See Wolf Blood this Halloween weekend:
Friday in Ashland, WI at Northland College
Saturday in Duluth with Mark Mallman and the Social Disaster