Released By: Inner Wound Recordings
Release Date: May 26th, 2017
Genre Power/Folk Metal
Francesco Cavalieri – Vocals
Claudio Falconcini – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Cristianno Bertocchi – Bass
Federico Meranda – Keyboards
Daniele Visanti – Drums, Backing Vocals
1. Distant Battlefields
2. Dance of Fire
3. Under the Stone
4. To Erebor
5. The Returning Race
6. The Animist
7. The Wolves’ Call
8. Fallen Timbers
9. The Eyes of the Mountain
One of the most surprising albums for me in recent years was Wardens of the West Wind, the 2015 release from Italian power metal band Wind Rose. I had been intrigued by the band after their 2012 debut Shadows Over Lothadruin, which was an interesting prog album that showed potential, but also had a lot of things wrong with it that really brought it down. So while I was interested in Wardens of the West Wind when I got a promo for it, I was absolutely shocked, both by how much I loved it and by how all the flaws from the previous album were fixed and the band had shifted styles quite impressively, going with more of a symphonic power metal sound, while still keeping elements of their debut. After how good that release was, I was excited to hear what they would do next and expected them to continue along the same path, but now their third release Stonehymn is set to come out later this month, and I have to say, the band has surprised me in an awesome way once again!
Wind Rose is an interesting band, in that so far each release has taken a fairly minor element from the previous album and expanded upon it greatly, making it the primary focus. For example, Shadows Over Lothadruin was primarily a mix of symphonic metal and prog, somewhat similar to Symphony X, but it contained brief bursts of power metal, which ended up becoming the main focus on Wardens of the West Wind. Meanwhile, that album was primarily a symphonic power metal release in the vein of Rhapsody of Fire, but it contained folk elements on a couple tracks, most notably on its closing track “Rebel and Free”, and on Stonehymn, this sound has taken over and become the main focus.
I’d say the best comparison to this album would be if you were to take the faster, more epic sections of bands like Ensiferum and early Turisas, remove the growls and then make that into an entire album, then you’d end up with something similar to Stonehymn. Of course, Wind Rose have still kept their own sound intact here, so the symphonic elements from previous releases are still used at times, choirs are still used a ton, power metal riffs remain a driving force and even the prog elements from the debut are still there in bursts, but the overall sound feels very fresh and new, with much more of a folk element than past releases. There’s a ton of epic gang vocal sections, group chants and all kinds of folk instruments used throughout, with many instrumental sections that would usually give way to guitar solos on most albums instead turning into interludes where various folk melodies are played, and this adds quite a lot of flavor to the music. The metal elements are still as present as ever, though, with the guitars still playing a big part, and there are some great riffs here for sure, especially during some of the mid-paced sections where the prog elements come in, and there are some nice sections where keyboards take over as well, but I find the folk elements add an extra layer to the music and are certainly much more prominent and more effective than I would have ever expected.
Vocals remain a strong point for the band, and if anything I’d say lead singer Francesco Cavilieri sounds even more comfortable with this sound than he did on either of their first two releases. He has a very deep voice with just a bit of a wild edge to it that fits in perfectly with folk music, and he’s equally effective at reining it in a bit for softer sections or going full out for epic, heavier sections. There’s still some epic choir vocals as on the previous album, though I find on this album gang vocals play a much bigger part, with most choruses and other big vocal sections having a ton of supporting vocals from the other band members, and there’s lots of fun chanting style vocals as well, which bring a lot of energy and fit in great with the folk elements. It really does feel like the band fully committed themselves to the sound they wanted on this album and did everything they could think of to pull it off perfectly.
The songwriting on Stonehymn is interesting, in that it’s a rare case of me not being at all bothered by a lack of variety in the tracks. Honestly, most songs here do follow a formula, where they tend to start out quietly, with soft sections where the folk elements dominate, then the orchestral elements and metal instruments kick in the and the music speeds up, which tends to happen at the start of almost every track here. No songs stay slow throughout, and there are also no songs that are really speedy every second of the song either. Usually, this kind of approach to songwriting would bug me, but there are a few reasons why it doesn’t in this case. The first and most obvious is that the folk elements are used so effectively, even if the songs themselves are all similar, there are so many interesting sounds here and so many epic melodies, I find myself enjoying every second of every track. Secondly, the band plays with so much energy, especially during the faster sections, that I simply can’t help but love it. And lastly, every song on its own is just so well written, with the right mix of catchy choruses, epic vocal sections, fun verses, great folk and symphonic sections, and just a ton of great surprises, that the lack of variety in songwriting ends up not hurting it at all. There’s also a lot going on in each track, as well as tons of tempo changes, with most tracks seamlessly going from slow to fast or mid paced to fast pretty much out of nowhere, and the band pulls this off extremely well, so the songs all flow perfectly.
Because of the approach to songwriting, it’s hard to do a full song by song breakdown, but I can say every track is fantastic and they all have plenty of memorable sections. There’s two brief instrumentals here, the intro track “Distant Battlefields” and “The Animist”. The latter is a nice folk interlude, while the former has a nice mix of orchestral and folk elements, with its main melody being very memorable and returning throughout the first full track “Dance of Fire”. In fact, one early highlight is during the first verse of “Dance of Fire”, where after a fun speedy intro, it slows down and brings back the main melody of the intro track, except here Franceso sings and it makes the music feel all the more epic, Then after that, the track speeds up and continues switching tempos throughout, with many epic vocal sections and a huge chorus.
Tracks like “Under the Stone” and “Fallen Timbers” use the folk elements to enhance the music throughout, with the former in particular having an epic use of gang vocals and folk elements leading into its chorus, while has nice folk melodies in its intro, but they mostly move along at a very fast pace throughout, with power metal elements being dominant, only occasionally slowing down a bit for some more progressive sections. Both tracks are awesome, fluidly mixing elements of folk and power metal, with the latter in particular having possibly the best chorus of the album and being probably my favorite track on the album. Other tracks like “To Erebor” and “The Eyes of the Mountain” use more extended slower sections, with the latter in particular probably being the most symphonic track on the album, using big choir vocals during its chorus and the orchestras have a much bigger presence on that track, though folk elements are still there at times. Meanwhile, “To Erebor” is probably the most folk-infused track on the album, with everything from its intro to the epic chanting vocals of its chorus and the tribal-like sounds used at various points, all giving the track a strong folk feeling. One point early on even reminds me of a certain Turisas track from their second album, though this doesn’t last very long, and gives way to the epic chorus.
On the softer side, “Returning Race” is the longest track on the album and also one of the more interesting tracks. It uses acoustic elements effectively early on, with the music giving the feeling of a sort of a tavern song during its early sections, and it effectively mixes these sections with speedier sections, with the tempo changing throughout and there’s quite a lot going on. It’s definitely a track that showcases how well Francesco’s vocal fit in on a more folk-infused album, as he sounds amazing during the softer sections here. Also on the softer side, lead single “The Wolves’ Call” starts off slow and the whole track makes very good use of extended calmer sections to build up to brief explosive moments, with the chorus, in particular, starting out very calm and then speeding up and becoming more and more epic as it goes along. The final run through the chorus is stunning and one of the highlights of the album.
Wind Rose surprised me big time in 2015, and they have done it once again in 2017! Where Wardens of the West Wind showed a promising band fully living up to their potential and then going much further to fully blow me away, Stonehymn is in some ways even more impressive, as it shows the band willing to move a bit away from what worked so well previously, and into something new, but manages to pull it off just as impressively. Fans looking for another symphonic power metal release may be disappointed, but as someone who always enjoy hearing power metal and folk mixed together and has been sad to see this mix of genres not being used too often in recent years, this release is just as pleasantly surprising for me as the band’s previous release, and stands as one of my top two albums for the first half of 2017. Fans of power metal and folk metal are highly recommended to give this album a listen, as it pulls the two styles off brilliantly and is one of the best releases I’ve heard from another genre in the last few years.
Reviewer: Travis Green