Wind Rose - Stoneyhymn - (9/10)
Published on January 8, 2018
The perilous road to Erebor.
Tolkien’s lore has been a ubiquitous topic of metal albums for about as long as the musical genre has been in existence, but one of the paths least tread in said mythos is the exploits of the Durin in the many ages of Middle Earth. This task was taken up to a great extent by one of Italy’s rising stars Wind Rose on their previous effort Wardens Of The West Wind, melding a folk-infused mixture of progressive songwriting, power metal impact and speed, and symphonic grandeur that bore an uncanny affinity for the larger-than-life film score music that adorned Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, and several recent high fantasy television shows like Game Of Thrones. The massive jump in stylistic that this album represented relative to their lukewarmly received debut cannot be understated, to speak nothing for the monumental jump in the quality of the result, leaving one to pray fervently that another equally massive evolutionary leap would not occur again. To allay the fears of any rabid fans of this band’s 2017 sophomore LP, their third offering Stonehymn is a classic example of not messing with perfection, save taking many of the stylistic trappings of the last album to their logical conclusion.
Arguably the greatest distinction between this album and its predecessor is that this collection of epic charges into the Misty Mountain is further geared into symphonic and folk territory, resulting in something that features similarly long and involved songwriting, but emphasizes the voice work and symphonic trappings more than the metallic assault. It is generally fast-paced, showcases some solid riff-work, but the overall character of these songs is that of an epic, grandiose whole with melodic content largely isolated in synthesized folk instruments. In essence, this album takes its arrangement cues largely from the handiwork of Equilibrium, though the progression of each song is a bit longer and more involved, leaning into territory similar to Tyr. The most emphasized element is clearly the vocal work, which sees a wide array of chants and gang chorus lines interweaving with each other, all the while placing a greater importance on conveyance of lyrical content than usual for a power metal outfit, but perhaps not so much for a band that styles itself after Ensiferum. Truth be told, the vocal performance of Francesco Cavalieri has taken on a deeper character than past efforts and could easily be taken for a Jari Mäenpää minus the harsh parts.
To call this album cinematic would be an understatement, as projecting images of perilous struggles on the road to destroy Smaug in one’s imagination while hearing this is inevitable. The onset a heavily orchestrated instrumental prelude in “Distant Battlefields” that offers the visual of a great open plain with war drums large enough to be carried by giants thumping in the distance, which launches immediately into a galloping charge of folksy heroism in “Dance Of Fire”, which is arguably the most pronounced power metal assault of the entire album, yet also a highly nuanced collection of peaks and valleys in terms of structure. It wheels effortlessly through a set of high speed cruises, mid-paced grooves and camp fire acoustic interludes/folk dance sections, culminating in a near seven minute epic that functions as a manifesto for the rest of the album. Indeed, what primarily separates one song from the next is the degrees of high octane power metal with a Turisas edge to it versus acoustic or atmospheric breaks, all of them laced with melodic fragments in either the orchestra, a lone flute/pipe or a series of vocal chants.
This veritable spectrum of folksy balladry to driving metallic fury sees a very calculated and measured variation from one song to the next. On one end is the heavily acoustic and atmospheric “The Returning Race”, which takes the longest to get going with a slow growing build from a distant acoustic line to a speeding celebration of dwarven heroics. On the other is the most metallic yet tuneful “The Wolves’ Call”, preceded by a serene choir of pipes and percussion in “The Animist”, which is consistently power metal dominated and has probably the closest thing to a symmetrical structure of any of these compositions. These standouts are not radically different from the rest of the songs found on here per say, as even more well-rounded offerings like “Under The Stone” and “Fallen Timbers” offer up a mixture of atmospheric splendor and speed/thrashing melodic rage, though these songs are themselves kind of fringe in that they cook a bit faster and rival the high octane brilliance of Ensiferum’s Iron. Truth be told, the only potential slouch point is the lack of any shred-happy guitar solos, but in much the same way as Turisas the songwriting is so well accomplished that it’s a deficit easily missed.
One thing is clear, for an album that has a fairly nuanced and involved songwriting formula that definitely justifies the progressive label attached to this band’s style, Stonehymn presents itself as the sheer opposite of nuanced in terms of general execution and exterior. While taking on a costumed approach to live performance is a fairly common thing in folk circles, Wind Rose and specifically Francesco Cavalieri have adopted a look so close to the Peter Jackson cinematic depictions of Bilbo’s employers that they may as well tattoo the phrase “Nobody tosses a dwarf” on their foreheads. Coupled with the all but excessive amount of chanting and doubled folk melodies in the backing instrumentation, this band might be accused of taking Ensiferum’s “Lai Lai Hei”, merging it with the singing style that Thorin Oakenshield and his 12 followers displayed in the 2012 film and ran with it for seven full length songs. Be this as it may, the trait that often separates a decent album from an amazing one is grabbing the listener’s attention with zero accounting for subtlety, and Wind Rose does that here while having the musical credibility to back it up. Make ready the halls of Erebor, for the wayward sons of Durin have returned!