Wolfgang Van Halen successfully lives up to his family name while carving out a separate identity and sound on his debut album, Mammoth WVH.

This is quite a narrow needle to thread, at an undeniably difficult time for the younger Van Halen, whose guitar-hero father Eddie died in October 2020. In addition to his personal grief, the reverence and protective bubble surrounding the elder Van Halen's legacy was at a fever pitch. Some online critics even accused Wolfgang of capitalizing on his dad's death with the tribute-paying debut single "Distance."

But one listen to Mammoth WVH makes it clear he isn't trying to hop on the Van Halen nostalgia train. Apart from a sly lightning-quick quote from Fair Warning's "So This Is Love?" at the end of "Don't Back Down," there's no obvious trace of his family's band here: no flashy guitar solos, none of David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar's vocal swagger and no winking sexual wordplay.

There is a clear family connection to be found in the high level of musicianship on Mammoth WVH, on which Wolfgang handles every vocal and instrumental part. But he's pulling from a different and newer set of influences, with more earnest and emotionally open lyrics. "The Big Picture" channels prime Alice in Chains, the unabashedly catchy "Think It Over" reveals the influence of pop-punk band Jimmy Eat World and a love of Queens of the Stone Age shines through on "Don't Back Down."

The songwriting is sharp and admirably varied throughout Mammoth WVH, with the churning bass, chiming acoustic guitars and yearning vocals of "Resolve" and the epic metallic closing track "Stone" adding to the album's display of creative range. There are plenty of clever, complex instrumental bits to reward repeated listens, but they never detract from the disciplined focus on structure, hooks and melodies.

It's going to be fascinating to hear how Wolfgang's music evolves on future albums. Mammoth WVH was completed nearly three years before its release, and it arrives before he's even served as a bandleader in front of a paying audience. But it's hard to ask for a more promising start.

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