Friday 17 June 2022

Wind Rose - Warfront (2022)

Country: Italy
Style: Folk/Power Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 10 Jun 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Here's a surprise for me, substituting for what I'd planned to review today because, well, it wasn't up to snuff and I have no interest in being a hatchet man critic. My job at Apocalypse Later is based in discovery and this album was a discovery for me as it may be for you. Wind Rose hail from Pisa in Tuscany—yes, that Pisa—and they play power metal. This is their fifth album and the highest rated of them at Metal Archives, albeit with only one review thus far. They apparently started out with a more progressive form of power metal but gradually shifted into a more epic folk/power hybrid.

Frankly, I could also see the Viking metal label being thrown at them too, even if they're a little far south in Italy to be considered Vikings. The Mediterranean is rather different in temperature from the Baltic or the North Sea, after all. To me, this is power metal that's constantly underpinned by folk melodies and delivered in a rough but melodic singalong style by male voices that could easily belong to people wearing horned helmets, not that Vikings ever did, of course.

The key to the band's current sound may lie in the bookends to this album. It kicks off with a short two minute intro, Of War and Sorrow, that's epic and instrumental and full of folk elements. Then, fifty odd minutes later, it ends with Tomorrow Has Come, all acoustic guitars and hand drums and rough voices in folk harmonies. It underlines the observation that every track here is effectively a different take on Tomorrow Has Come, just heavied up, as indeed this one becomes around three and a half minutes in.

Sabaton surely have to be thrown out as a comparison, but with that Viking edge, as the vocals are rougher but just as melodic and singalong. Like Sabaton, they're singing about war but with more of a participatory mindset and they're doing it in in the form of shanties and folk epics. Draw a line from Alestorm to Sabaton and you'll find Wind Rose perhaps three quarters of the way over to the Swedes, having shorn the silliness and swearing but keeping the drunken singalongs.

And everything here feels like a drunken singalong, not in the sense that Francesco Cavalieri slurs his delivery, but because the setting is so inherent in the music that we can't help but imagine him singing in a oaken alehouse. In fact, he isn't just there, but standing behind an oaken trestle table with a large stein of beer in his hand and his cohorts singing along next to him. The folk aspects do underline all this too, because these songs are surely as good companions as that beer and just as inviting. When they're heavy, they're comrades in arms on the road. When they calm down, like in late sections of Army of Stone, they're warm pubs with blazing fires and buxom barmaids.

If it wasn't for that implicit welcome, the downside to this album would be that there isn't a lot of variety here. Frankly, if you like any one track here, you're going to like every one of them because they're all of a similar mindset. They don't tread exactly the same ground, though, and not one of them outstays the welcome, which is why the potential downside turns out to be one of its biggest successes.

In fact, I'll go a heck of a step beyond that. Every song is worthy on its own merits and could easily count as the track you'd want to play to catch a friend up in what this album is. I listened through a third time specifically with that in mind and it's so consistent that I simply couldn't pick one. It was always the one I was listening to at any particular moment in time, whichever one that happened to be. What's more, every time I thought maybe not this one, it would do something to enforce its place at the top of my list.

Maybe I feel reasonably safe in placing I am the Mountain just a little below the rest and it's hard to compare the closer to the rest because of two thirds of it being acoustic. So the highlight would be one of the first seven songs proper, from Army of Stone to The Battle of the Five Armies, and an acknowledgement like that means that this has to be a 8/10 with thoughts of going up to a rarely awarded but much coveted 9/10s. I've only given out two this year thus far and this is the closest I can remember of making that three, but I think the ruthless consistency of 90% of the album and a slight shift for the rest blocks that. Rating aside, grab some bottles of mead, some drinking horns and a bevy of friends and you'll have a grand old time with this. Slainte!

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