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While 2006’s ‘Northwind’ was an excellent comeback from Falconer, featuring the return of both original vocalist Mathias Blad and the folk-tinged sound that had put the band on the map in the first place, it lacked just a little something compared to their earlier CDs. A fine effort to be sure (and well worth the 4/5 rating it received on these pages at the time), but in retrospect a few of the songs lacked just a little of the staying power of their earlier material, and at the same time the more-prominent-than-ever folk influences contributed to a slight lowering of the overall speed and intensity.
CD number 6, ‘Among beggars and thieves’ certainly addresses some of these issues, and in fact could be billed under that most wretched of clichés, ‘a combination of all the band’s styles to date.’ While the amped-up medieval sounds and symphonic aspects of ‘Northwind’ remain, the galloping rhythm guitar and hammering double-bass drumming is back with a vengeance.
Lead guitarist Jimmy Hedlund, now on his 3rd CD with Falconer, seems to revel in this increased heaviness. His solos on the previous 2 releases were superb, but he manages to outdo himself on this occasion with a stunning display that fits seamlessly with the CD’s steelier tones.
But almost as if to make sure the more historic side of their sound isn’t left behind, there are no less than 3 original songs entirely sung in Swedish, kept company by the heartbreaking acoustic piece “A beggar hero”, and for the digipack purchasers out there, a traditional Swedish song called “Vi salde vara hemman”, which may be just a little familiar to fans of the ‘Chapters from a vale forlorn’ CD. Opener “Field of sorrow” is a fine embodiment of the entire CD in just a few minutes: a gentle folksy opening breaks into a pulsating riff and a typically wonderful bittersweet chorus, all topped with a beautiful, soothing bridge delivered in the way only Mathias Blad can.
In addition to all the familiar elements, now together at last, there is even a hint of progressive tendencies to be found here and there – “Carnival of disgust” features enough twists, turns and time changes for a song twice its length, while the jarring acoustic break right in the middle of the chorus to “Man of the hour” is just audacious enough to be a success. “Dreams and pyres”, arguably the most large-scale song Stefan Weinerhall has ever written, is something almost completely new for Falconer. Revisiting the metal opera style attempted on their 3rd CD, Blad is joined by both a male and a female guest vocalist to tell a sad tale from the days of witch burnings. Their most symphonic piece yet, including an intro of over 2 minutes with no guitars, it is a hugely ambitious song for Falconer and is a resounding, haunting success.
Weinerhall and his band mates can be very proud indeed of their efforts here. They have managed that most tricky aspect of condensing nearly all the best aspects of their existing CDs to date - even finding room for a bit of ‘Grime vs. grandeur’ rock ‘n’ roll on the 2nd bonus track, “Dark ages” - and managing to throw in a few new elements to boot without creating a CD that is a directionless clutter. After their flirtation with disaster a few years ago, Falconer are now only showing signs of getting stronger with age. Weinerhall may never quite get his wish of topping their modern classic debut, but as long he and his band mates keep trying this hard and producing results of this quality then no one should care. A one-CD misstep aside, their discography is near-flawless, and ‘Among beggars and thieves’ is another stellar addition to the ranks.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)