To fans of the melodic variation of rock, power metal is a vast genre. When speaking of it, the style usually draws either glowing responses from fans or comments where the ire of the listener is quite evident in their response. Like any other genre, power metal bands fall into different levels of expertise. You have the elite bands such as Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Tad Morose and Iced Earth. There are the bands that are also top notch, yet at the same time just below the elite level; bands such as Sonata Arctica, Helloween, and Dragonforce. There are the fairly good bands like Tarot and Primal Fear. The average in Hammerfall. And the downright terrible bands. 3 Inches of Blood comes to mind. So where does the Swedish band, Falconer, fit in? Judging by their first two releases, I'd slide them in right between fairly good and average. They had the potential, yet on their first two records, they just couldn’t put it together. But that was quite awhile ago wasn't it? When the second of those two albums, Chapters from a Vale Forlorn, was released I was still in Grade 5, 9/11 was still fresh on everyone's mind, Saddam was still in power, SARS had not yet broken out etc, etc. Lots can change in that amount of time. Yet despite this, I was not particularly looking forward to Falconer's 2006 release, Northwind. The return of the talented, yet cringe worthy, Matthias Blad had me doubting the album even more than I was prior to that revelation. Yet, I have recently found an interest in reviewing new releases, so I thought "why not Falconer?"
So I started listening to the album, and lo and behold, as the title track started up I was greeted by the line "NORTHWIND EMBRACE ME!" I groaned, but I had a review to write, so I listened on. Much to my surprise, that was the last time I was irritated by the band. Northwind turned out to be quite the album, above anything I've heard from the band thus far. This is truly Falconer beginning to reach their potential. A trait once missing from the band's releases, consistency is very much present on the album. From Waltz with the Dead to Catch the Shadows to Himmel sa Trind (an all Swedish track) to Home of the Knave, Falconer does not disappoint. Quite a surprise for a band I had totally written off.
Perhaps my favourite part about Northwind is the guitarists. Stefan Weinerhall and Jimmy Hedlund lead the way with soaring leads. Fans of power metal couldn't ask for anything more, as the pair is extremely solid throughout, especially on tracks like Northwind and Spirit of the Hawk. Unlike before, the band's guitarists are not overshadowed by Blad. Not only is this much more enjoyable, it is also very effective. The rhythm guitar is also solid, yet not nearly as impressive as the leads.
Back in the day, the weakest link of Falconer was vocalist Matthias Blad. Yes, he is talented, but at the same time his voice was so nauseatingly painful to listen to, it just killed the album. Well, Blad left after Chapters from the Vale Forlorn, only to return again for this album. I have no idea where the man went, what he did, or how he did, but upon returning I can say without a doubt that he's improved. I would call him my favourite vocalist, but he's definitely much easier to listen to. For those who do not know, unlike the Michael Kiske's, Tony Kakko's, and ZP Theart's of the power metal world, Matthias Blad sings in an incredibly low voice. This is more or less the level he sings at throughout the album. If you're looking for high flying falsetto style vocals that is the norm of power metal, you'll either have to look somewhere else or learn to like Matthias' approach. Perhaps my favourite of Blad's performances are in the songs Waltz with the Dead and Spirit of the Hawk, especially in the choruses of both songs. You can tell Blad is an ace at what he does, and despite doubts I had about his return; I have to say that I'm glad he's back.
Northwind is a strong release from the Swedish power metal band. By far the best the band has done with current singer Matthias Blad, the album should definitely draw praise from fans of melodic metal. The album features some of the band's best work, with tracks such as Waltz With the Dead and Home of the Knave particularly standing out. On the live front, a song like Northwind should be a crowd favourite with its sing-along-esque chorus. While perhaps not one of the year's best albums, Falconer's fifth release should please fans and continue Falconer's growth as a band. Don't be afraid to pick this up if you have the chance.
Waltz With the Dead
Home of the Knave
Spirit of the Hawk