If Sweden's Wolf had its way, Bruce Dickinson would never have joined Iron Maiden and Rob Halford would never have left Judas Priest. Over its past three full-lengths, the band has honed an unabashedly retro blend of early-'80s Maiden and Priest that has mostly escaped the cheese factor common in power metal. 2002's Black Wings was enjoyable, but the best first taste of Wolf is 2004's Evil Star, a showcase for the most Halford-esque vocals heard since Ripper Owens.
The Black Flame is slightly disappointing. Niklas Stålvind's vocals are stirring as always, but the riffs and melodies underneath are flat and uninspired. A few highlights do peek through, like the anthemic hook in "Make Friends with Your Nightmares" and the proggy bridge in "The Bite." The performances are sharp, but they just don't hit the air guitar-inducing heights of earlier albums. The Studio Fredman production, too, is technically flawless, but the sound is so clean and bright that it's almost harsh. If you want an updated, album-length version of "Eat Me Alive," look no further.