The Lowdown: For years, Wolfgang Van Halen, the son of the late Eddie Van Halen, wrote and recorded songs in his father’s 5150 Studios. Wolfgang played every instrument and handled all the vocals, gradually amassing a catalog of melodic songs that incorporated elements of pop, hard rock, and heavy metal. Few heard the material, but Eddie always took the songs with him on his phone, telling Wolfgang it was his favorite album of all-time. “Proud dad talk,” Wolfgang told People.
Eddie’s encouragement would lead Wolfgang — who also played bass in Van Halen since 2006 — to turn the recordings into a proper studio project, dubbed Mammoth WVH, and eventually release a debut solo album. Sadly, this would come to fruition right as Eddie passed away last year. The announcement for Mammoth WVH’s debut album and single “Distance” arrived shortly after the guitar icon’s death, leading some to question the timing.
As Wolfgang explained, everything had already been planned, as these album promotional cycles are set in motion months prior. The song itself served as a touching tribute to his father, accompanied by a tear-jerker video featuring home movies of Eddie and his son. The single and video struck a chord with listeners, sending the track to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Chart. “Distance” wasn’t originally intended for Mammoth WVH’s self-titled debut album, but its reception led Wolfgang to include it as a bonus track. The numerous singles that followed also saw airplay and big YouTube numbers, and the hype for the new album has been at a rolling boil since being announced.
The Good: Wolfgang has crafted a record that stands on its own, out of the shadow of his father’s band. It also showcases an impressive smattering of musical styles and genres, mostly sticking to the realms of alternative and hard rock.
Opener “Mr. Ed” kicks things off with a massive Jerry Cantrell-esque riff, giving us our first delectable taste of Wolfgang’s guitar playing. Ever so often, there’s a pull-off or a riff (i.e. the middle portion of “Epiphany”) that recalls Eddie’s technique, but for the most part, Wolfgang flexes his own style.
The more acoustic-based pop songs (“Resolve”, “Circles”, “Distance”) are especially satisfying, and Wolfgang sounds more confident vocally and lyrically in this format. That’s not to say he can’t rock out. Just listen to “Stone”, originally slated as the album’s crushing closer. We can see why: It’s a six-minute guitar workout that would’ve ended things with a fireworks display. Still, Mammoth WVH wouldn’t feel complete without “Distance”. Despite being tacked on, it’s the strongest and most emotionally compelling piece here.
The Bad: Don’t go in expecting Van Halen the band. As Wolfgang told People, many anticipated him following directly in his father’s footsteps as a musician, playing Van Halen covers or forming a tribute act. He emphasized he has no interest in ever doing that, but would rather write and perform his own songs. That said, there’s a sense of Wolfgang still finding his musical voice on Mammoth WVH. The sheer variety of styles and songs create a lack of cohesion, and the LP can feel a bit disjointed at times. The sense of discovery and exploration is rewarding — the songs conjure a mental image of Wolfgang in the studio, experimenting and trying various instruments to render his ideas to tape. There’s nothing unlistenable on Mammoth WVH beyond a somewhat forgettable arena pop-rock trope like “You’ll Be the One”, but you might want to “heart” your favorite songs and jump around the lengthy tracklist for maximum enjoyment.
The Verdict: While Van Halen this is not, it does have the high-quality control benchmark inherent to the Van Halen name. Wolfgang’s voice is melodic and pleasant, especially on the big choruses throughout the album. The musicianship also veers on virtuosic. Considering Wolfgang basically grew up in the studio and around instruments, he performs with a professional sheen rarely seen from a one-person project. Sometimes it can feel a bit too safe and calculated in that regard, but the passion and thoughtfulness Wolfgang put into the album is palpable. Mammoth WVH is the sound of a young musician forging his own path and a very strong beginning to Wolfgang’s musical journey as a solo artist.
Essential Tracks: “Mr. Ed”, “Stone”, and “Distance”
Pick up the debut Mammoth WVH album here, and stream the entire LP via Apple Music or Spotify in the players below.