Falconer - Northwind 4/5

Reviewed: 11-24-06





Tracklist:

1. Northwind
2. Waltz with the dead
3. Spirit of the hawk
4. Legend and the lore
5. Catch the shadows
6. Tower of the queen
7. Long gone by
8. Perjury and sanctity
9. Fairyland fanfare
10. Himmel sa trind
11. Blinded
12. Delusion
13. Home of the knave
14. Black tarn

Bonus disc:

1. Kristallen den fina
2. Ridom ridom
3. Liten vate
4. Vavinder friska


Falconer stumbled quite significantly on their previous release, last year's 'Grime vs. grandeur'. The CD marked quite a stylistic change for the band – almost completely gone were the folk melodies and medieval-themed lyrics that had dug them a rather unique niche in the scene, replaced by more straightforward, traditional metal arrangements and lyrics that tried (often failing spectacularly) to address social and personal issues. Some of the songs were still very good, but overall it came as a major disappointment as it seemed that Falconer had lost something of their identity. Many people put this dramatic slip-up down to the absence of vocalist Mathias Blad, who makes a welcome return on this venture, but seem to forget that 'Grime vs. grandeur' was actually the 2nd one to feature his replacement, the immensely versatile Kristoffer G๖bel.

Songwriter Stefan Weinerhall seemed to take on board some of the criticism leveled at his writing on the previous CD and Falconer announced well in advance that they would be returning to the folk sound of old, and that they had decided that Mathias had to be re-hired for this change to be done properly. Many assumed then that 'Northwind' would be back to square one for Falconer, but upon actually hearing the CD it can be noted that this is not quite true – while returning to the style of songs that were found on their 's/t' debut or 'Chapters from a vale forlorn', the folk elements are now more prominent than ever. I guess you could say that it's more back to 'square 0.75' than anything else.

In the past, Falconer had generally played crunchy power metal that incorporated folk melodies and occasionally used more traditional instruments in the odd song. With 'Northwind', Falconer have almost crossed the line to becoming a full-blown folk metal band – they still haven't thrown themselves as far into the genre as the likes of Elvenking or the legendary Skyclad, but the difference is palpable. Acoustic guitars have a greater role to play, and the intensity of the songs has been taken down a notch or 2. The band still burst into full speed on many occasions of course, but a more wistful, reflective approach permeates the CD to a greater degree than ever before.

One of the key differences to be noted between 'Northwind' and the first 3 releases is the addition of symphonic elements to the songs. I can imagine a lot of readers rolling their eyes at the very thought of this, but there's no need to be worry – the keyboards-imitating-violins are used with great subtlety and tastefulness and are only there to add an extra touch of depth and class to already excellent songs. This isn't even close to Rhapsody's style of burying the rest of the band under layer upon layer of keyboards for the sake of sounding 'epic'.

However, on the complete flip side of the coin, there is one significant (and very welcome) holdover from 'Grime vs. grandeur' – lead guitarist Jimmy Hedlund offered something new to Falconer on his debut with the band, and he keeps up the good work here, peppering the songs with some blistering solos. Stefan has always made it clear he sees himself as a rhythm player above all else, and the first 3 Falconer CDs have very few outright, over-the-top solos - what we have here is something close to the style found on those releases, but with some excellent guitar shredding adding a new flavour to the songs.

On the whole, of course, this is a Falconer CD, and despite the changes noted above, it is still easily recognizable as such. Mathias Blad's wonderful mid-range voice adds real character to the songs that was sadly sometimes missing in his absence. Kristoffer is an excellent vocalist and did his utmost for Falconer, but upon hearing 'Northwind' it becomes more apparent than ever that Mathias really is the only man for the job. His voice, drifting between uplifting and melancholy, fits the medieval atmosphere created in Falconer songs like a glove, and makes it more apparent than ever that he was badly missed.

As you would expect, the galloping, stop-start rhythm guitar style that Stefan has made his trademark and the sudden jarring bursts of double-bass drumming from Karsten Larsson are of course littered throughout the CD, both executed to absolute perfection on the standout track "Catch the shadows". This song has everything that makes a great Falconer track and it stands proudly alongside other band classics such as "The clarion call" and "Mindtraveller". Fans of Falconer's bastardisations of traditional Swedish songs are in for a real treat as well – not only is there a bonus disc featuring no less than 4 of these songs, but Stefan has taken a jab at writing one of his own in "Himmel sๅ trind". The song is entirely in Swedish (Mathias performance here is spine-tingling) and the music has a real 'old world' feel to it. Were it not for the writing credits in the inlay, one could easily have mistaken this for another traditional song done the Falconer way.

Without wanting to exhaustively sift through every track on the CD, it is far simpler to say that virtually everything on here will please both fans of Falconer's old material, (providing them a few surprises along the way) and newcomer fans of medieval-themed heavy metal alike. Everything expected from Falconer – soaring melodies, thick guitars, soothing folk passages, veiled social commentary (and songs about birds!) – is all present and accounted for and executed by a band back at the very top of their game. Attempts to revitalise a band through reintroducing former members so often fall flat (see Annihilator and Metal Church), but it is a pleasure to report that Falconer have provided another CD of high quality metal. 'Northwind' is a release with no bad songs – only some that are better than others, and under a very harsh light, some that don't match up to those on previous releases. But when it comes down to it, Falconer's comeback has been a triumphant one, providing another late contender for best CD of 2006.



CREAG




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