He is, in essence, now a lone Wolf – that’s Lenny Wolf, as in the mastermind behind Kingdom Come. As in the band that was first mistaken for Led Zeppelin in 1988 and then savaged by critics for sounding a little too much like them on the single “Get it On,” as well as on the self-titled debut album from which the track in question came. As in the band that some waggish scribes dubbed “Kingdom Clone” and was taken to task by none other than Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page as rip-off artists and forgers.

That was a quarter century ago, and while they still unapologetically wear their ‘70s hard-rock influences on the project’s tattered sleeves, Kingdom Come – basically, a solo project for Wolf these days, seeing as how he produced, engineered, mixed and mastered Outlier, in addition to playing all the instruments, with the exception of Eric Forster’s guitar solos – isn’t inextricably bound to them. Wolf has come into his own as a recording artist, becoming more assured as a songwriter and sonic architect. And his designs are more dramatic and impactful than ever.

Dark and moody, with Wolf often looking inward for lyrical inspiration and his passionate, slightly worn voice a beacon, the sprawling Outlier is awash in murky atmospherics, its expansive soundscapes stretching out far and wide on “Don’t Want You to Wait” and “When Colors Break the Grey.” The sweeping epic “Rough Ride Rallye” practically lives in Wolf’s shadowy synthesizers before growing in a full-blown supernova. Another silvery, cinematic production, with tendrils of distortion floating through the air, “God Does Not Sing Our Song” is similarly cast, enveloped in billowing guitar blackness and angelic melodies. Far more rugged, though just as starry and cosmic, “Running High Distortion” drives on through the night with drums bashing away and guitars flashing like lightning. These are beautiful sonic constellations, almost divine in their own way.

However, there is no God in “Let the Silence Talk” or the slow-burning, ballad-like “Holy Curtain,” both of them constructed according to more standard, earthbound metal blueprints. And with “Skip the Cover and Feel,” Wolf decides he can no longer keep his love for Zeppelin hidden, turning a gritty blues riffs inside-out, much as Jimmy Page once did, before a melodic flood rushes in. Outlier is a stylish album – even heavy, hook-filled hitters like “Such a Shame” and “The Trap is Alive” have their moments of dreamy transcendence, although the verses of the latter are somewhat clumsy in their movements.

Solidly built and ambitious, Outlier has a smoky quality and pulse-quickening tempos that make it perfect for moonlit caravans in fast convertibles. In the harsh light of day, few tracks really beat their chests and demand to be singled out, but Outlier certainly is pretty and meaningful reflections on life and love. The echoes of past criticisms leveled at Kingdom Come are fading.

Label: Steamhammer/SPV