Monday 28 December 2020

Falconer - From a Dying Ember (2020)

Country: Sweden
Style: Folk/Power Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 26 Jun 2020
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I'm all for bringing unrelated genres together and many of my favourite albums of all time fit into an unlikely such combination. Somehow I've never quite been able to buy into Falconer's combining folk music and heavy/power metal into something that clearly isn't what we tend to think of as folk metal. They've announced that this is their final album, so it's a last chance for me to get on board.

The band are heavy, but clean. The drums are often fast, though the guitars rarely follow suit, content to play along with power chords and slower riffs. The vocals are clean too, notably so. Mathias Blad is deliberately as clear as he can be, his enunciation right out of musical theatre where the vocalist tells a story and it's important to follow his every word. However, with the exception of sections where he's accompanied by solo piano, like the ballad Rejoice the Adorned or the intro to Fool's Crusade, which are musical theatre through and through, what Blad sings is more akin to mediaeval folk music.

As such, I've often thought of them less as folk metal and more as minstrel metal. Songs like Redeem and Repent or Bland Sump Och Dy drop into wandering minstrel territory so deeply that I visualised individual artisans in the background. This is unmistakably folk music, but it's just as distant from a Korpiklaani drinking song as it is from a a Fairport Convention ballad. What's more, because Falconer tend not to follow the typical folk metal approach of incorporating traditional instrumentation into their sound, they're arguably closer to the Mediæval Bæbes than the mediaeval metal of In Extremo or Saltatio Mortis.

I should emphasise that they don't eschew them entirely, but everyone in the regular line-up plays a traditional rock instrument and the guests are used sparingly. Sure, it's hard to miss Pontus Nilsson's bagpipes on Thrust the Dagger Deep or Mathias Gyllengahm's fiddle on Rapture, but they're not lead instruments and it's a rare instrumental, like Garnets and a Gilded Rose, that even attempts to fully integrate them. And so it's a strange sound to me, like the wandering troubadours at any Renaissance Festival if only Les Paul had gone electric in the fifteenth century and Tony Iommi had joined him.

It didn't help that the most catchy power metal song here, the opener, Kings and Queens, is hindered by some clumsy scansion, and I've never been much of a fan of musical theatre vocals. It could be said that I'm really not the target audience for what Blad does, but he does it so well that it's hard not to be won over in the end. I can acknowledge that, scansion in one song aside, Falconer do what they do very well indeed and yet I can still not be a big fan of the style they've created.

Redeem and Repent moves back and forth capably between mediaeval folk and heavy metal and it's my highlight here, I think. I particularly like when it drops out the latter to a capella former, because it's always a surprise for me, however often I replay it. I also dig the Shakespearean theatrics of Thrust the Dagger Deep, backed with simple riffs, Deep Purple organ and a frequent backdrop of bagpipes, plus a fresh drop out of metal into a capella folk.

Even if this isn't my folk metal, I can respect that Falconer do something that nobody else does and they do it very well. If you're a fan, add another point to my rating.

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