As a lover of post-apocalyptic fiction and games, a Kentuckian, and a Proglodyte, you can only imagine how I felt when I saw the following post on Reddit:
We’re The Wolves of Chernobyl, the world’s only post-apocalyptic progressive bluegrass band, and we’re coming to Preservation Pub next Friday, January 5th
Well, shoot dang.
Now, there are a lot of bands with clever gimmicks, so when I walked into Preservation Pub in Knoxville, Tennessee and saw the band setting up, dressed up in post-apocalyptic costumes that elicited some kind of steampunk Daniel Boone aesthetic, I knew my first task was to see whether The Wolves of Chernobyl was only a gimmick.
Nope. What a blast!
The Wolves of Chernobyl are a cacophonous, theatrical joyride. Seven talented musicians (or were they NPCs from Fallout: New Vegas?) crammed up on a small stage in a corner of a local bar with a combination of instruments that didn’t seem like it should work: pumping electric guitar, upright bass, trumpet and mandolin, banjo, drums, and multi-part vocals courtesy of the lead singer, female backup singer, and guitarist. And if there’s any complaint I could have of the show, it was the inherent difficulty in mixing so many disparate instruments in a way that could please anyone. However, the venue didn’t quite seem ideal for this purpose; I got the best sound by sitting close to the stage and getting the monitor mix.
Despite the trickiness in bringing so many sounds together, The Wolves of Chernobyl managed to maintain a coherent sonic presence throughout the show. I am not sure if any piece could be removed without damaging the overall gestalt of what they were trying to do. It felt like my old 1999 Saturn station wagon when it got above 70 MPH on the highway – it felt like every rattling nut, bolt, and joint was just going to pull apart at any moment, but somehow, miraculously, the whole dang thing managed to stay in once piece and get me where it was going perfectly.
The singer, Tyler, seemed thoroughly committed to the performance, with his spidery limbs and other-worldly energy exploring what little space he had to work with between the guitarist and banjo player. When he ran out of horizontal space, he chose to go vertical: in the middle of one song, he stood, trembling and reeling while standing on the drummer’s throne and, doubling over onto the mic, belted it dramatically. At other times, he used an old suitcase to give himself a little boost. In between songs, his spoken narration shifted between post-apocalyptic mythology and stories about the road, making me wonder what world I was in, exactly.
I particularly enjoyed the drummer, who seemed as though he was squeezing every ounce of joy possible from his role in the band and the songs themselves. If the premise of the show ever seemed to be on the verge of wearing thin, he was always capable of bringing it back to Earth – it’s a fun show, man!
If you decide to see The Wolves of Chernobyl live, expect a raucous time, with music shifting from mellow bluegrass-inspired ballads, to 16-minute multi-part story arc epics, to punk-infused energetic romps. There’s a lot here a prog fan would love, and most of all, you’ll never get bored.