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Falconer have long been a driving force within the power metal scene and with the release of their 6th studio album, Among Beggars and Thieves, the Swedish quintet serves up perhaps their finest offering to date. Power metal is often derided for having more cheese than a Green Bay home game, and for the close minded listener, Among Beggars and Thieves might seem a superficial outing. However, Falconer have crafted a loving tribute to their home country as well as gracing the listening public with 11 tracks of emotional, creative, and just plain entertaining music.
With the return of founding vocalist Mathias Blad, many long time fans of Falconer were anticipating a return to the folk stylings that first gained the band notoriety, and Among Beggars and Thieves doesn’t disappoint on this account. Several of the songs, most notably “Beggar Hero” and “Skula Skorpa Skalk”, explore the lilting, playful soundscapes of traditional folk tunes. The influence is profound throughout the record as well, as most tracks contain at least one section of acoustic guitar, lute, and/or other minstrel-esque instruments.
The vocals also convey the storytelling vibe of the album. With lyrics detailing the rise and fall of kings, peasant uprisings, and historical Swedish battles, the folkish overtones of the music are made much more visceral. Blad has a unique singing style that again compliments the music. His singing is very understated and non-forceful, and yet he still conveys power and command over the listener. Another interesting note is that two of the tracks, “Vargaskall” and “Skula, Skorpa, Skalk”, are completely sung in Swedish. A risky move perhaps, but one that works very well, as it again highlights the folk elements of Falconer’s music.
“Dreams and Pyres” might be one of the best power metal songs I’ve ever heard and is far and away the best track on an already solid album. This power metal opera (which is a perfect way to describe it) relates the story of an Inquisition-esque trial for a woman accused of witchcraft. What truly stands out is the extensive use of orchestral passages as well as the call and response between Blad and the female guest vocalist. The music is stirring and the choir that ends the song with the chant of “God save him from Satan's demons!” sends chills up my spine every time.
One of the few qualms I have with this album is the lackluster production. While everything is audible (except the bass… again) the guitars get shafted as far as placement. Power metal is a genre in which the vocalist and guitars battle for dominance and it’s the interplay between the voices that creates much of the atmosphere; however, with Among Beggars and Thieves, Falconer gave prime channel placement to Mathias Blad. As much as I appreciate his distinctive style, the guitar work of Stefan Weinerhall (yes that is his last name, he’s Swedish) is one of the reasons I first fell in love with this band, and it’s upsetting that much of the intricacy gets lost in behind the vocals.
Among Beggars and Thieves is a great way for those unfamiliar to power metal to explore the more artistic side of the genre. With thick folk roots and supremely catchy guitar work, songs like “Pale Light of Silver Moon” and “Boiling Lead” immediately appeal to a wide audience. Overall, I feel that this is one of, if not the, finest power metal offering of the year as well as Falconer’s best record. As long as you’re not lactose intolerant there is no reason why you won’t enjoy this record.