Spellblast - Horns of silence 4/5
1. In the name of Odin
2. Lost in the forest
3. Losing reality
4. Glory to the gem
5. Goblins' song
6. Legend of the ice wolf
7. Sign of the unicorns
9. Knights of darkness
I don't know about you, but I've always had a soft spot for folky metal of most shapes and descriptions, ranging from the godly folky power speed of Falconer to the acid-tongued literacy of Skyclad to the Spanish gypsy jig-dancers Mago de Oz to the blackened mead-soaked Korpiklaani to the frosty Faroese legends of Tyr. The richness and fertility of this genre has now yielded another worthy entrant, Italy's Spellblast, whose debut CD, 'Horns of silence', was just released on Metal Crusade Records, which I suspect is the band's own indie imprint.
Despite the independent nature of this release, all of the highest standards of professionalism are satisfied here. The most immediate impression that this Spellblast CD makes is with the cover art, a well done piece showing a bearded, armored dwarf-like character drawing his weapon as a hairy, clawed enemy, dripping green slime (blood? toxic ooze? radioactive waste?), approaches. Of course, the dwarf is a spitting image for the Gimli character from the Lord of the Rings movies, but that's perfectly okay by me, although I suppose some may find the obvious borrowing of imagery to be off-putting. And the music was recorded, mixed and mastered at Italy's famed New Sin Studios under the watchful eye of Italian sound maestro extraordinaire Stefanini Luigi. As if these earmarks of quality were not enough, Spellblast were joined in the studio by Elvenking singer Damnagoras, who provided guest vocals on 3 tracks. So please don't be fooled for a moment into thinking that Spellblast's lack of a proper label equates to a lack of quality or professionalism in packaging or production, as nothing could be further from the truth.
'Horns of silence' is a catchy, bouncy affair that certainly has folky elements, but generally not in the overt flutes-violins-and-bagpipes method that many other folk metal bands employ (although the occasional flute or violin snippet surfaces here). Instead, this CD is first and foremost a melodic European power metal CD, in the riffing, the songwriting, the arrangements, and the singing. The melodies have a folky feeling to them, as is the case with say Falconer or Wuthering Heights, and the keyboards add some folk-tinged sounds too (even a bassoon sound on opening track "In the name of Odin") a la say Elvenking, but it would be a mistake to lump Spellblast in with the Mago de Oz and Skyclad type sound; instead, the most valid comparisons would undoubtedly be with Falconer (with lesser vocals) and Elvenking (with much stronger vocals).
Spellblast has a pair of particular strengths working in their favor. The first is the knack for writing some truly amazing catchy power-infused, mostly speedy ditties. "Lost in the forest" could be the power metal anthem of 2007, and is simply a massive sing-a-long track. When I listened to the clip for this song on the vendor's website, I was sold immediately. Other cuts like "Goblins' song" and "Sign of the unicorns" are sure to spin through the cobwebs of your head for hours after the CD ends. The other weapon that the Spellblasting sextet offer is their highly talented vocalist Jonathan, who is virtually accent-free (a rarity among Italian singers) and avoids the high-pitched squealing histrionics favored by so many of his countrymen in favor of a clear, powerful, confident voice that has just a touch of Piet Sielck and Jens Carlsson (Persuader/Savage Circus) if my ears do not deceive me. It's funny: On the songs that use guest star Damnagoras to supply some of the vocals, I invariably wish that Jonathan did them all because he's clearly the superior singer of the duo, at least to my metal-ravaged ears.
In all, 'Horns of silence' is a fine debut that I unequivocally recommend to devotees of folky power metal and the Italian scene, in general. My only hope is that next time around, Spellblast will procure a larger recording budget to utilize more symphonic elements and perhaps drop down the keys in the mix a bit (as I find them a tad overbearing from time to time), but that's really a matter of personal taste that I recognize is largely attributable to my own personal aversion to the keyboard as a prominent instrument. If you have an itch for something new in the Falconer/Elvenking vein, give Spellblast a chance. Your effort will be rewarded by the discovery of these talented newcomers.
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