Prelude / Wolf Song [Lycanthropy]
Lycanthropy, Patrick’s first full-length release, opens with the sound of howling wolves and a brief instrumental, but ‘Wolf Song’ (lyrics) is our proper introduction to the record, and it successfully sets the scene for what is to follow.
Walk tall beneath these trees, boy
You monolith, not scarred by fallout
Us wolves, we’re right behind you
And Lucifer will never find you.
Patrick isn’t the narrator of ‘Wolf Song’, but the subject to whom it’s addressed. For such a personal songwriter, it seems odd to cede his voice at the opening of the album, but it won’t be the last time on Lycanthropy that Patrick adopts someone else’s voice to talk about, or to, himself.
The opening couplet signals that this is an album characterized by resilience – “not scarred by fallout” foreshadows not only the trials that confront Patrick over the course of the album, but also his persistence, defiance, and reluctance to be characterized as a victim.
The wolves that narrate ‘Wolf Song’ differ from those in traditional folklore. They aren’t a threat to Patrick; they’re his protectors. “Wolves are right behind you” is a comfort, not danger to flee from.
The moon! let it guide you!
When Selene comes, we’ll all know how to fight
Dear Fenrir, my savior
Come and eat the ones we know who taste the best
He invokes both Selene, Greek goddess of the moon, and Fenrir, the monstrous wolf of Norse mythology. A liberal use of mythology and folklore is typical of Patrick’s songwriting, which engages with this sort of thing not for its own sake, but as a tool for conveying his own personal narrative.
My use of lofty words like ‘trials’ and ‘narrative’ is purposeful: most of the material on Lycanthropy was written between the ages of eleven and sixteen, and the album is an exercise in transforming the daily doses of crap suffered by the kind of kid who wears platform shoes to boarding school into the stuff of legend. Imposing a narrative on your life as a way to extract meaning from it is a fairly common thing - something most of us do subconsciously. Formalizing this process allows Patrick to lend strength to his teenaged self, while also playing with mythological tropes and children’s tales for narrative purposes and literary effect. This is a conscious choice.
In 2003, Patrick spoke admiringly of philosopher and mythologist Joseph Campbell:
“He has this thing called the mono-myth where he creates a template for the hero’s path. With every hero from Hercules to the soldier in the Tinder-Box [a Hans Christian Andersen tale], charting the hero’s downfall to his rise. He writes it as an allegory for somebody who really wants to do something with their life. And I really take comfort in that at the moment.”
- Patrick Wolf, The Mind’s Construction Quarterly, Winter 2003 (source)
Steps along this narrative journey include the Call to Adventure, Supernatural Aid, Crossing of the First Threshold, Metamorphosis, the Road of Trials, Temptresses, Meeting with the Goddess, Atonement with the Father, and the Crossing of the Return Threshold. Consciously or not, this imagery appears throughout the five album ‘narrative’ of Patrick Wolf.
His choice of Wolf as a last name is not coincidental. ‘Wolf Song’ functions as an incantation, an invocation of the Supernatural as a means of beginning his quest. As in ‘Bloodbeat’, Patrick’s not fleeing from the dark but into it – embracing it, becoming it.
And don’t be afraid of the dark
‘Cause the darkness is simply a womb for the lonely
Swallow your pride and walk with us through the hills
Oh, your English eyes,
They are turning red
The darkness is a womb for the lonely, in which tall monolithic Patrick Apps gestates and transforms himself into something more independent, more resilient, less soft. At least until the moon is down.
Patrick Wolf - Wolf Song (Demo)
Earlier versions of ‘Wolf Song’ were more in keeping with the combination of electronics and acoustics that appear elsewhere on Lycanthropy. This version is quite lovely, but the album’s arrangement of violins, ukulele and touches of sleigh bells work better sonically, allowing the computer fuzz and beats to appear only once Patrick’s metamorphosis has begun.