Review Summary: Tis windy from north yonder...these steeds 'hooves split the ground asunder. Folky power metal deluxe.
Anyone who's ever been to a fantasy or a "gothic" convention (like yours truly) will know the deal. It's the kind of place you hear lots of folk stuff, and you also hear lots of metal stuff. Also, if you've ever been to such a convention, you'll see all the attendants either are dressed in what can only resemble medieval clothing, or something more victorian gothicky styled (and it's prettier than the dresses Amy Lee wears, and Vibeke's fishnet stockings have got nothing on some of these attendants.) Then, of course, there's gonna be lots of people that play too much Dungeons and Dragons, and those just wear their old Iron Maiden and Judas Priest t-shirt (or Blind Guardian if they are a bit up to date.)
Well, if such a convention wanted to get a good headliner, Falconer should be top of the bill. These guys try to emulate medieval Sweden by means of modern power metal, and it sounds exactly you'd expect it to sound. There are lots and lots of dun-da-da-dun guitar riffs, unison solos on the guitars, and the token operatic clean vocals. But because these guys aren't content with rehashing Helloween or Stratovarius, they have found a bit of their own element; the folk bits. Most of the time, the guitars are playing those typical folk melodies, however, unlike in other folk metal bands which use the original instruments. It's not as hilariously overdone as Finntroll however; Falconer realise that their style of music is already overwrought with cheese and wisely decide to stick to the basics and not go too over-the-top with adding flutes, mandolins and acoustic guitars. It's all there of course, but it never overtakes the songwriting; Falconer have found a definite balance between the folk and the metal aspect.
Another thing that must be mentioned is another way that Falconer manages to avoid a general pitfall of the power metal genre; the vocals. Mathias Blad has a background in theatre and performing, and it is rather visible; he never reaches the shrieking highs of most power metal vocalists. He has a comfortable range and uses it to its fullest extent, but never sounds like he's overreaching or dwelling into screeching territory. It's an excellent performance from a man that a couple years ago wasn't even in the band due to his theatre commitments. However, it seems that he has lost none of the strength that made the top cuts on Chapters From a Vale Forlorn
such an enjoyable experience. It is rare to see such restraint within the genre, and though it should be applied in more bands, it seems like Falconer just manage to get it right on here.
However his vocals are best expressed on the three Swedish songs on the album. When he uses his native tongue, he sounds even more comfortable than in English, and it makes a tune like "Vargaskall" with its wonderfully folky vocal line a joy to listen to. I have no idea what the lyrics (as I do not understand Swedish) entail, however, but considering this is a power metal band with folk influences, I'm going to assume it's something about medieval tales, knights, and other such stuff that power metal typically deals with. The nice thing about all this fantasy nonsense is that it leaves you more time to concentrate on the excellent vocals that are actually being produced. The Swedish songs also spare the listener the trouble of trying to understand the hackneyed lyrical themes of the band, which do come through slightly in the English songs. It's not enough to be distracting (and of course for the genre it's pretty much a given), but for anyone new or haters, it's not going to make their opinions change.
Musically, it's all nice and par for the course power metal. Guitarist Stefan Weinerhall plays a lot of lead harmonies a la Iron Maiden, except the general melodies sound more like something that Blind Guardian would produce. The riffs are slightly heavier than on previous work, lending them a grittier feel: sort of like Ensiferum, but with clean vocals. The drummer and the bassist are competent, and of course here you also get the double bass workouts such as "Field of Sorrow" (boasting an awesome textbook Helloweenish chorus as well.) They also throw in the occasional acoustic interlude or female vocal line, along with the folk melodies, just to make it a bit more varied and palatable. The album does have issues with songs running together towards the end of its runtime, but all in all it does an admirable job of trying to stand out (something rather unheard of for power metal these days). Ok, so it's still nothing you haven't heard before, but it's done tastefully, and at least these guys will never receive complaints from the fans for not knowing their instruments.
However, the biggest issue is still the image a band like this has. It's only too easy to just make fun of them as another silly cheesy folky power metal band with flutes that makes your penis shrink. Sure, in that respect, the band bring nothing new to the table. But if they keep playing competently and writing some excellent tunes ("Carnival of Disgust" and "Field of Sorrow" being prime examples), all the people at the fantasy/gothic conventions will still buy their records. And everyone else should just buy the cd as a guilty pleasure for when they want to get inebriated and have lost their Manowar records, because you just can't help but sing along to some of these grand choruses...