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It's now been seven years since I first heard Falconer's 2001 debut album; one of the albums that made me a metalhead in the first place. Falconer will always hold a special place in my heart, so this review might come off as slightly biased, but even with the strong metal offerings from every direction last year, I can't think of any other 2011 album that is better than this gleaming gem of honest, straight-from-the-heart power folk.
As far as the music itself, it sounds like there's a good bit more grit on the production and the instruments when it slides to the metal side of things, but really mellows when the slider goes back to folk. The pacing and flow of the songs is impeccable, drawing us in with its well-rounded peaks and valleys. Also, I've contended from the start that Stefan Weinerhall has the same mutant power that Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong has; the power to compose nothing but hooks on the guitar. Seldom is a dull moment in the guitar tracks, their fast yet technically proficient riffs and solos keeping the energy level high to compliment the kickin' drum tracks, and the slow, acoustic parts paired with classical instruments mellow the tone out and keep things fresh before the next burst of power.
However, the most striking feature of this album is the fact that all the lyrics are in Swedish. Falconer have dabbled with occasional songs in their native tongue on previous releases, but this time they're sticking far closer to their homeland, which is actually making the album feel much more personal and heartfelt than anything they've done before. Even though I have to rely on lyric translations to understand them, it really feels like they're tapping into something they relate to, compared to historical fiction rock operas or more standard fantastical metal fare. This album was not intended for us foreigners; this one's dedicated to their Swedish brothers and sisters. But that's quite alright, as we're all more than able able to enjoy it. I also intently listened to the English-translated bonus tracks in case the language gap was clouding my judgement here, but the songs still felt like they carried the same momentous emotional weight.
Ever since day one, Falconer seemed to really get the idea of folk metal. Folk music, lesser-known folk especially, is more often than not fairly dark and sad fare, and melding these dour concepts with metal instruments gives musicians the chance to really punch that point home, to be taken seriously by both folk enthusiasts and metalheads. And while I was hooked from the first album, I don't think any of their previous albums could conceivably reach across the room to appeal to both sides. I think Armod definitely has that potential.
I've already paid full price for this album, but I'd gladly pay again...hell, I'd pay double...if an English version of this album were put out there, instead of the few bonus tracks I've scrounged up. With that said, this is still far and away my favorite album of 2011, and the current benchmark for both the band itself and for folk metal in general. This soul-bearing bombshell of integrity and power blows away all the other gimmicky, elves-and-trees metal bands, leaving their forests in smoky ruin. Everyone else has a lot of catching up to do.