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I had never been much of a Mithotyn or Falconer fan before, so you can imagine my surprise when the latest album not only made my year's end list for 2008, but actually had me listening back through their earlier catalog. Among Beggars and Thieves is probably the best amalgamation of folk and power metal I've ever heard. I didn't think it could ever be done properly but I am glad to have been proven wrong. An amazing performance by returning vocalist Mathias Blad is matched note for note by an excellent display of musicianship and songcraft.
"Field of Sorrow" opens to the distant call of synthesized winds and pipes, soon to be buried in the blazing power rhythms and rock tight drumming. Blad's voice enters, blunt and manly but possessed of just the right amount of melodic edge to ensnare you. The track picks up into a charging power metal anthem which should please fans of the European style, yet it's all Falconer. "Man of the Hour" assaults with another bewitching power metal rhythm, busy guitars flowing all over the vocal line, and a great chorus in which the metal occasionally cuts out for some glistening flutes and folks. "A Beggar Hero" in an exercise in earnest acoustics and a lovely exchange between Blad and a female guest. "Vargaskall" begins with choral chanting and then some of the sickest guitars on the album, with a very Mithotyn feel to them (continuity!). Blad sings this one in the native tongue to nice effect. "Carnival of Disgust" is a slower metal track with some amazing chorus lines, guitars here once again delivered with technical precision and extreme catchiness. "Mountain Men" has one of the best speed/folk metal guitar riffs I've ever heard, winding and complex before it parts way to the symphonic verse. Again Blad's skill must be taken into account as he weaves through quick flurries of folk, flawlessly meshing these once disparate musical forms into a perfect whole. "Viddernas Man" is another folk rock track with Swedish vocals. Beautiful. "Pale Light of Silver Moon" again delivers the technical speed metal fury, with some great leadwork. The remainder of the album is equally glorious, with "Boiling Led" leading the way and the epic "Dreams and Pyres" to round it all out.
The mix of the album is superb, considering just how much is actually going on it really delivers the backbone. The great Andy LaRocque (King Diamond) did wonders recording this. Female vocals are used only sparsely and never in an offensive or cheesy way to deride the music. Stefan Weinerhall and Jimmy Hedlund deliver their riffing with a fury, and the rhythm section of Magnus Linhardt and Karsten Larsson keep up easily. I can't think of a single gripe except that one or two of the tracks are ever so slightly weaker than the rest. Even the lyrics are good.
'Lower decks were flooded,
Chaos and agony.
The morning air was filled with an aria of cries.
Crewmen jumped the rail now
Choosing ice before the fire.'
Any questions? This kicks serious ass, so much so that I feel very wrong in having ignored the band in its former years. I have yet to track down the bonus tracks for the Japanese/Digibook release, if so I'll update this review. This is exactly what I want to hear out of a power/folk metal album, and it's a fucking travesty that this has come and gone already with very little fanfare.
So I'm bringing it. Heralds, sound the trumpets. Buy this album immediately, you apathetic parasites. My will is your command!