Review Summary: Although not without its few flaws, the general sound of Falkenbach's fourth album is, as usual, a strong and epic one, the use of excellent narrative work and harsh vocals proving solid.
Falkenbach's fourth album, “Heralding-The Fireblade” has an interesting bit of history surrounding it. First and foremost, many of the songs found on this album were actually written by long-standing member Vratyas Vakyas for a supposed debut album entitled “Fireblade”, yet unfortunately due to equipment troubles and problems with the production, it never ended up getting finished. The other interesting thing that leads off the aforementioned point is the fact that there are two rehashed versions of older songs in Falkenbach's catalogues-That is, 'Heathen Foray', a new version of 'The Heathenish Foray' from the “Magni Blandinn Ok Meginitir” album, and a version of 'Laeknishendr' from the band's debut album, “En Their Medh Riki Fara”.
However, 'Heathen Foray' turns out to be both a slight disappointment and a bad way to introduce a Falkenbach album. The most instantly noticeable thing about it is the main weakness of the entire album-The clean vocals. It's not something that Vakyas has ever really seemed to struggle with in any of the band's albums prior to “Heralding...”, but here it appears that the man himself wants the song to end as soon as possible, as the laziness of his voice also drags the entire song down into eventual boredom and monotony. Not only that, but the lyrical content here is far too excessive for a song as originally well written and composed as 'The Heathenish Foray'. For the first four or five minutes, Vakyas croons zombie-like as each particular lyric passes by without any power or heartfelt emotion, instead appearing as a damp squib. For a band that is well known for their excellent songwriting and stellar compositions, 'Heathen Foray' could well have been axed from the album to save any listener skipping to the next track.
These flaws continue over the next two tracks, but thankfully are not as prominent. 'Of Forests unknown' begins to sound very promising indeed when a furious Tyrann screams his heart and soul out over each particular lyric, giving power and emphasis to the overall song itself. The aggressive nature of each instrument and faster pace provides some interest to the listener, yet one can't help but think that for a near four-minute song, there are just too many lyrics to fully embrace the performance of the instruments themselves. Instead of noticing how excellent the guitar work is, or how powerful and epic the atmospheres are, it seems that the harsher vocals, which do work well, are a dominating force. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for a band like Falkenbach who excel at their instrumental performances, this could well be offputting to many a fan. The very melancholic 'Havamal', with its cleverly intertwined acoustic guitar interludes and sorrowful violin passages, also appears very well written, but yet again, as on the album's first track, Vakyas' clean vocal delivery is limp and doesn't add anything bar an extra annoyance to the song itself, suggesting that he is desperate to make his voice known.
You'll probably have read the last couple of paragraphs and be asking yourself “Is this album even worth my time?”, and you could hardly be blamed for doing so. Fear not though, for the album's first three tracks are in fact the worst. On the fourth and most furiously performed 'Roman Land', harsh vocals take centre stage and rip right through everything intact, and although the instruments still can't be heard properly, it gives off a more interesting and engaging effect than on the last three songs. The similar song structure of 'Walkiesjar' also adds flavour to the album's general sound, yet never seems to suffer from mediocrity or bore the listener as more folk instrumentation is used to its full effect. Even the instrumental closer 'Gjallar', which is strongly reminiscent of the band's first album, “En Their Medh Riki fara”, powers through with its solid guitar performances and wispy keyboard work.
Arguably the highlight of this album is directly in the middle of the tracklisting-One of the most progressive and perhaps experimental songs in Falkenbach's career, 'Heralder'. At first the clean vocals don't really seek to impress, but with the inclusion of some excellently performed narrative work and more folk instrumentation, the songwriting is, for once, heartfelt and emotional, as epic atmospheres soothe the listener's ears before crumbling them to dust with some very solid yet deviating guitar rhythms. Not only that, but the narrative work features some astoundingly good lyrics, and one female voice that appears much stronger and more powerful than Tyrann himself. Throughout the song a story of epic proportions is told, as “...the man dismounted and his horse was taken by its bridle to be brought into the stabling/Meanwhile he was brought to the hall where the king sat on his great seat” and “After three days and nights of riding the frontier they reached/with their hearts wholly determined/And encountered the christian church in their once sacred woods”. Reading that to yourself now it wouldn't probably seem as if it was that impressive, but on a background of stellar musicianship and lush atmospheres, it proves to work quite well.
“Heralding-The Fireblade” has a fair few flaws, but also manages to save itself from becoming a disaster by using excellent narrative work and some very well used folk instrumentation. Although this album would only be liked by long-time fans of the band or for those interested in tracing the band's history, it still does offer a few surprises. If you want to listen to 'Heathen Foray' and 'Laeknishendr', you would be better off listening to their original versions on the “Magni Blandinn Ok Megnitiri” and “En Their Medh Riki fara” albums respectively.