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Falconer - at least with Matthias Blad on vocals - has to rate as one of my favourite bands in power metal, and this is coming from a confirmed power metal addict. There's just something uncanny about their chunky riffs and folk sensibilities, and having Matthias' unmistakable tenor soaring over the top of it all caps off a wonderful package.
"Among Beggars and Thieves" doesn't disappoint on any score. We kick off proceedings with two tracks displaying the trademark Falconer sound - "Through the Field of Sorrow" and the truly special "Man of the Hour" - and from that point on, things just get better and better. Matthias gets the chance to sing in his native language on no less than three songs, which is a newish idea for the band, and in contrast to the traditional method of tacking a Swedish folk song on at the end of the album. "Vargaskall", for example, appears as the fourth track overall and is just as tasty as any of the power/folk standouts of years gone by.
Indeed, this is a much braver effort from Falconer than before in general. Where acoustic folk used to seem almost an afterthought at the end of the album, it's front and centre here, as in the case of "A Beggar Hero". Indeed, this song demonstrates the other important change from the traditional Falconer template, namely the introduction of female backing vocals. I'm not entirely convinced that the female vocals work - partly because they seem so unexpected when they crop up - but it's definitely an avenue which I'd like to see the band explore further.
Musically, all the ingredients are still there. When we remember that Stefan Weinerhall - the brains behind the band - used to play in Mithotyn, it's still quite clear to see that he wears his influences on his sleeve. A lot of the folkier riffs here could easily be converted from terrific folk-power ones into terrific black-viking ones given a bit of time. "Moutain Men", in particular, sounds as though it could have been written as a viking metal track first off, and it's testament to the genius of the band that they're able to carry this feeling off in what is clearly a folk-power metal number. Watch out for the cod-medieval vocal runs in the middle of this song, in fact.
On the whole, though, the point about this album is that it's a Falconer album with Matthias Blad on vocals. The overall stylistic template of the band hasn't altered much throughout its career - with the exception of the ill-advised change of vocalist, but thankfully for all concerned Matthias returned to the fray. For my money, this is a template that's never going to grow old, but the facts that acoustic parts are more prominent and the band is experimenting with additional vocalists both show that things are moving along nicely and everyone is aware that stagnation isn't a good fate at all.
Highly recommended to anyone of a folk metal or power metal persuasion. This is top-notch stuff.