Twilight Force – At the Heart of Wintervale Review

Stylistically, Twilight Force has evolved in ways that very much reflect what Rhapsody themselves went through over the years, starting as a fun, simple fantasy-themed power metal band with...

Released By: Nuclear Blast Records

Release Date: January 20th, 2023

Genre: Symphonic Power Metal

Links: https://www.facebook.com/twilightforce/

 

 

Line Up:

Alessandro Conti – Vocals

Philip Lindh – Guitars, Lute

Anders Joakim Johansson – Guitars

Dunder Björn Lundqvist – Bass

Daniel Beckman – Keyboards, Piano, Violin, Cembalo

Isak Olsson – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. Twilight Force

2. At the Heart of Wintervale

3. Dragonborn

4. Highlands of the Elder Dragon

5. Skyknights of Aldaria

6. A Familiar Memory

7. Sunlight Knight

8. The Last Crystal Bearer

9. The Sapphire Dragon of Arcane Might is Back Again (Bonus Track)

10. Skyknights of Aldaria (Orchestral Version)

11.The Last Crystal Bearer (Orchestral Version)

 

 

It’s the start of a new year, which also means we have plenty of new awesome metal releases to look forward to in the coming months, with one of my most anticipated releases of the year being At the Heart of Wintervale, the fourth full-length release from Swedish symphonic power metal band Twilight Force. At a first glance, it’s quite easy to tell the band is heavily influenced by Rhapsody in all of its forms, with that feeling only further enhanced by the fact their current vocalist is Alessandro Conti, who of course was also the lead singer on the two Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody albums. Despite the similarities, though, the band has managed to standout in recent years, as one of the strongest in their field, with their third release Dawn of the Dragonstar in particular being an absolute masterpiece of unrelenting, intense, and epic fantasy-themed power metal from start to finish. With how amazing that album was, I was beyond excited to hear what the band would deliver next, and after spending some time with At the Heart of Wintervale, I can safely say it lives up to all my expectations, and even surpasses them in some ways!

From the very beginning, Twilight Force is a band that showed potential to be one of my favorites, instantly hooking me in with “Enchanted Dragon of Wisdom”, the opening track of their debut Tales of Ancient Prophecies, and never let me go ever since. With that being said, I found their past releases have each had a couple of things holding them back from reaching their full potential, whether it be the fact I wasn’t fond of original vocalist Christian Eriksson, some poorly used narrations or even some lackluster production, the latter of which was the one slight criticism I had against Dawn of the Dragonstar. I can safely say, all of those flaws are nowhere to be found on At the Heart of Wintervale: Conti’s vocals are fantastic as always, the brief bits of narration are very well implemented, and the production has been nicely improved over the previous two albums. Of course, none of that would matter if the actual music, performances, and songwriting quality weren’t up to par, but thankfully that is very much not the case.

Stylistically, Twilight Force has evolved in ways that very much reflect what Rhapsody themselves went through over the years, starting as a fun, simple fantasy-themed power metal band with light symphonic backing and occasional folk elements, before slowly evolving to become more epic and cinematic with each new release. At the Heart of Wintervale is easily the band’s most ambitious album to date, despite clocking in at a rather slim 45 minutes (without bonus tracks.) Fans can still expect the same kind of fast-paced, high energy-melodic power metal the band is known for, with optimistic lyrics and huge vocal melodies that sometimes bring Freedom Call to mind, but the music, in general, has a more cinematic feeling to it, with bits of classical music and orchestral music thrown in at times, especially during the final track. There are also a couple of tracks that have some rather surprising elements I wasn’t expecting, which I’ll explain further in the review. Suffice it to say, there’s much more variety to the tracks than I was expecting, with everything from full-on power metal, to some more folk-infused symphonic metal, blast beats, and a huge theatrical final track which doesn’t feel like anything the band had done on previous albums, but in the best way possible.

I mentioned earlier that the production flaws from a previous couple of albums have been largely fixed. While there’s still a bit of room for improvement, with drums, in particular, coming in a bit quiet at points, as well as narration being near impossible to hear clearly without headphones, on the whole, it sounds great, with the guitars, in particular, being much more clear in the mix than on the previous two albums, while vocals and symphonic elements are as clear and powerful as ever. Performances are fantastic across the board, with the symphonic elements being a clear highlight, along with Daniel Beckman’s keyboards, which often provide the main backdrop for the music while having plenty of memorable moments on their own. The guitars are much more prominent than on the previous albums, as well, and can get pretty heavy at times, as well as providing some excellent melodic solo sections, along with the expected neo-classical shredding, which can be stunning at times.

New drummer Isak Olsson fits in wonderfully, matching the pace of the music perfectly and delivering thundering drums throughout, with the blast beats on “Skyknights of Aldaria” being particularly memorable. Unsurprisingly, Alessandro Conti is as excellent as ever, sounding fairly similar to the great Michael Kiske, but with a more theatrical approach to his vocals, to match the epic feel of the music. He especially shines on the choruses, where he goes really big with some of his high notes, and there are moments where he is spectacular. I had already loved his performances with Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and Trick or Treat, but between this album and Dawn of the Dragonstar, he is fast becoming one of my favorite power metal vocalists.
One area where I’ve never doubted Twilight Force is their songwriting, which has always been fantastic. At the Heart of Wintervale continues their ongoing saga, and while I generally don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, they can be very epic and inspiring at times, with the final track showing potential for the story to go in some very interesting directions. Moving onto the actual songs, the album begins with a self-titled track. Unsurprisingly, it’s the kind of up-tempo, super epic, and melodic symphonic power metal the band excels at, with a strong emphasis on the rather light keyboard work, as well as some heavy guitars throughout the verses. The chorus is huge, with some amazing vocal melodies, and incredible vocals and it’s also extremely fun and catchy, making it an instant winner. The instrumental section is also impressive, with epic neo-classical shredding, which is both technically impressive and very melodic at the same time. Overall, it’s a fantastic track, which gets the album off to a flying start.

Next is the title track, and it follows suit with its predecessor, moving along at a frantic pace, with thundering drums, heavy guitars, and some very flashy keyboards, managing to be equal parts fun, melodic and epic, with the chorus being especially great, as Conti gets to hit some really big notes throughout, accompanied by some fantastic choir vocals. Despite not being as overly symphonic as some of the later tracks, it still has a huge, cinematic feel to it, especially on the chorus, and it’s another fantastic track. The first surprise of the album is “Dragonborn”, a more mid-paced track, where the symphonic elements become the main focus, along with some folk melodies and instrumentation, which gives the track a unique feel. It almost feels like a sort of medieval folk tune at times, while still maintaining the kind of upbeat, epic feels the band always has. The verses, in particular, have a very unique rhythm to them, which helps them standout in a very cool way, while the chorus is upbeat and epic, while maintaining a very unique feel, with the sped-up version at the end, in particular, being one of my absolute favorite moments on the entire album. Overall, it’s an incredible track, and one of my personal favorites, as well as one of the most surprising.

The first epic-length track is “Highlands of the Elder Dragon”, a fairly typical sounding track for the most part, maintaining the kind of heroic, epic fantasy-themed symphonic power metal fans would expect, with the cinematic elements of the music dialed up a few notches, as well as bits of narration, which are used effectively to move the narrative forward, without getting in the way of everything else. The music mostly moves along at a blistering pace, with a fantastic chorus, where the lyrics change each time to fit the narrative progression, which is something I always enjoy hearing on a concept album. There are also some nice softer passages throughout the track, as well as small traces of darkness, which are used effectively, though overall it’s still the kind of upbeat, epic power metal fans have come to expect.

One track that is equal parts familiar and new is “Skyknights of Aldaria”, another very epic track, with a strong cinematic feel to it, especially with how the symphonic elements and choirs are used. It moves along at a fairly relaxed pace during the opening verse, feeling like a more melodic track, but then the chorus kicks in and is super massive and intense, with the use of blast beats to help add an extra layer of heaviness. From there, the track speeds up and becomes heavier as it goes along, with some very epic moments in the second half. Perhaps the band felt a slight break was needed after that track, as they follow it up with “A Familiar Memory”, a very calm and beautiful interlude track, with some nice folk melodies. The deluxe edition of the album features an extended version of that track titled “The Sapphire Dragon of Arcane Might is Back Again”, which is essentially an acoustic folk medley of three tracks from the band’s second album Heroes of Mighty Magic. As someone who loved the songwriting on that album, despite some issues with its production, vocals, and narration, I find this fusion of the tracks to be a very welcome surprise, as well as a nice reminder of how amazing the actual songs on that album were.

Moving towards the end, “Sunlight Knight” is another straight-forward, super fast-paced, bombastic symphonic power metal track, with energetic verses, a fantastic, catchy chorus, and an amazing instrumental section in the middle, where the band briefly throws in some Caribbean music, which fits in well with the overall feel of the track, somehow. Overall, it’s a fantastic track on its own, while also serving as one last ray of sunshine before the darkness that is the final track, “The Last Crystal Bearer”. Right away there’s a slightly sinister feel to the symphonic arrangements, with the orchestras having a very strong film score feel to them, and before long we’re treated to some epic guest vocals. Sadly, I’m not sure who any of the guests on this track are, but there are a few of them, and they all do a fantastic job, with this rather deep-voiced, sinister-sounding man, in particular, being the most memorable. Musically, the track goes through many different moods and tones, as expected, often staying in the fairly slow-paced territory by Twilight Force standards, very much being more of a cinematic symphonic metal track than a power metal track, though are some fast-paced passages as well, with another strong chorus which once again changes along the way to match the story progression. The lyrics themselves deal with dark magic (necromancy to be more exact), which is quite an interesting turn for a band that has largely been upbeat and happy to this point. Obviously, a lot is going on here, but everything is executed wonderfully throughout, and then the last three minutes come in and take the listener by surprise. When I first reached the bit of narration towards the end, I was prepared to turn my brain off and skip that part on subsequent listens, memories of the catastrophic “Epilogue” from Heroes of Mighty Magic instantly coming to mind, but thankfully that’s not what happened this time around. Instead, the narration blends in nicely with some very epic, cinematic classical music in that background, with bits of power metal and more vocals from Conti in between the narrated sections, and so the section flies by every time, proving to be an unexpectedly satisfying conclusion to an already amazing album.

Ever since I first heard Twilight Force, I knew they had the potential to become one of my absolute favorite bands, with their overall musical style and songwriting instantly impressing me. Despite one flaw or another holding back each of their previous albums to some degree, I’ve always been thoroughly entertained by their music, and now with At the Heart of Wintervale, they’ve managed to release an album that doesn’t have any of their previous flaws, while maintaining everything I’ve always loved about their music, as well as introducing new elements that fit in perfectly. Fans of epic, fantasy-themed symphonic power metal along the lines of Rhapsody are sure to find a lot to love here, and I’m sure longtime fans of the band will be very pleased. This is an album that contains the kind of epic, high energy power metal I’ve come to expect from the band, while also showing traces of new elements which could push their sound further than ever before, while also containing some of the best narration I’ve ever heard on a power metal album. 2023 has only just begun, and Twilight Force has already set a very high bar for other power metal bands to clear!

 

Ratings: 10/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

 

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