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Falconer, Falconer, Falconer…what a perplexing case this band is, having a truly original sound and of course being ridiculed by it by some people. Singer Matthias Blad is a real gem, with an inimitable style that literally nobody else has ever had in this genre. Apparently trained in theater, he came to the metal world with a very unique style that is pretty much the epitome of love or hate – a smooth, soothing tenor that does not reach for the skies so much as smoothly glide over the music with graceful wings. It’s really things like this band that are the reason why metal is such a great genre – where else can you find such delightfully colorful cast of ridiculous characters bringing in their own weird contributions to the established canon? It’s a creative milestone, and I absolutely love it. You can do anything in metal if you can write songs well enough. Thus…Falconer’s Northwind.
A more passive, folksy album than any of their previous ones, this album does not jump up and kick your ass so much as pensively examines a number of poetic, literary subjects about heroism, myth and all sorts of moral dilemmas. Northwind is an album that thrives on midpaced tempos and huge, hypnotic choruses that are quite literally completely infectious. It is a very happy, cheerful album even in its heavier moments, and it is one of those albums you put on to feel good at any given time.
”Northwind embrace me
As I face the horizon…”
So sugary it might as well be a new dessert topping at a Publix cake factory. But it’s good – and doesn’t give you indigestion either. This is really, really laid back music, and really is not suited to those who are all about the aggression and fury. It works by virtue of its sophistication and subtlety, with each song having a lot of substance and thematic well-roundedness. Every song has a clear motif, a catchy melody and some great hooks. Matthias Blad’s vocals are deeper than they’ve ever been, and he digs down into some of his more somber, mellow tunes yet with class and style. Standouts like the title track, “Waltz with the Dead,” “Catch the Shadows” and “Perjury and Sanctity” shimmer like newly uncover diamonds under the sun, with great hooks and crystalline melodies making for wonderful songs.
Northwind does tend to drag a bit, with its cheer and good nature becoming monotonous when every song sticks around the same tempo, but it really is not that big of a problem when you have such good songs to back it up. Maybe they could have cut a few tracks out, like “Himmel sa Trind” or “Long Gone By,” and made for an all around stronger album, but as it is, Falconer’s Northwind is excellent and you should try it out if you like melodic metal. Go get it!
First and foremost, I was among the majority of Falconer fans who thought their last album, Grime Vs. Grandeur was a huge disappointment. In fact, I was convinced that album would mark the demise of the band. I'm glad they proved me, and possibly many other fans, so very wrong.
The voluntary return to the old sound, and return to original vocalist Mathias Blad seems very surprising, and truly rare. We all know the age old tale of beloved bands turning to garbage in an attempt to change sound or worse yet, expand their fan base. But to turn around and suddenly say "Okay, that was a bad idea. Let's just stick to what we were doing, because it felt natural, and it was something special." - the band gets much respect for this alone. Though, sometimes it is a good thing to change (like in the case of Angra), but Falconer gained their initial fan base for a reason: unique, catchy, well written folk/power metal greatness. Most surprisingly of all though, is the fact that they were able to pull it off with relative grace.
Okay, now on to the meat of the art. Falconer in essence, pick up from where they left off at Chapters for a Vale Forlorn. Extremely catchy, memorable power metal over the instrumental framework and lyrical themes of Swedish folk. It is almost impossible for me to even begin to examine what it is that makes Falconer's music stand out so brightly among the proverbial near-wasteland that make up their scene. Aside from their mix of folk and power metal itself.
Perhaps it is Mathias' voice, which seems tailor fit for folk metal. He sings always in a bittersweet way, though it is somehow hopeful. Also, his voice is considerably low, having an enormous depth, especially when compared to his power metal contemporaries. The lyrics that go with these vocals are a perfect match. Some lyrics tell a tale, like a real folk song would, while others have what seem to be the typical "fantasy and glory" lyrics you'd expect from a power metal band. Though upon closer examination (actually, it didn't take much for me to notice), most songs have an abundance of metaphors and social commentary. Ranging from a distaste for America's current affairs (Home of the Knave) to people getting obsessed with their own fancy (Fairyland Fanfare), the hypocrisy and shortcomings of Christianity (Perjury and Sanctity), etc.
The memorable switch-ups between folky acoustic, folky electric guitar licks, to power metal riffage with that occasional rock/traditional feel, are back in full force. The portions of each are a bit lopsided from previous albums, in that it seems there is a few more slower songs than usual. The solos and leads are melodious and enunciated as ever. The guitars sing as Mathias, bittersweet, and intensely powerful yet brilliantly euphonious.
This album is a true return to glory, and a great album, though it cannot match the greatness of Chapter for a Vale Forlorn. If you're already a fan of Falconer, you'll know what to expect for the most part, and you won't be disappointed. If you're a newcomer, this is still a great place to start for this power metal staple.
To fans of the melodic variation of rock, power metal is a vast genre. When speaking of it, the style usually draws either glowing responses from fans or comments where the ire of the listener is quite evident in their response. Like any other genre, power metal bands fall into different levels of expertise. You have the elite bands such as Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Tad Morose and Iced Earth. There are the bands that are also top notch, yet at the same time just below the elite level; bands such as Sonata Arctica, Helloween, and Dragonforce. There are the fairly good bands like Tarot and Primal Fear. The average in Hammerfall. And the downright terrible bands. 3 Inches of Blood comes to mind. So where does the Swedish band, Falconer, fit in? Judging by their first two releases, I'd slide them in right between fairly good and average. They had the potential, yet on their first two records, they just couldn’t put it together. But that was quite awhile ago wasn't it? When the second of those two albums, Chapters from a Vale Forlorn, was released I was still in Grade 5, 9/11 was still fresh on everyone's mind, Saddam was still in power, SARS had not yet broken out etc, etc. Lots can change in that amount of time. Yet despite this, I was not particularly looking forward to Falconer's 2006 release, Northwind. The return of the talented, yet cringe worthy, Matthias Blad had me doubting the album even more than I was prior to that revelation. Yet, I have recently found an interest in reviewing new releases, so I thought "why not Falconer?"
So I started listening to the album, and lo and behold, as the title track started up I was greeted by the line "NORTHWIND EMBRACE ME!" I groaned, but I had a review to write, so I listened on. Much to my surprise, that was the last time I was irritated by the band. Northwind turned out to be quite the album, above anything I've heard from the band thus far. This is truly Falconer beginning to reach their potential. A trait once missing from the band's releases, consistency is very much present on the album. From Waltz with the Dead to Catch the Shadows to Himmel sa Trind (an all Swedish track) to Home of the Knave, Falconer does not disappoint. Quite a surprise for a band I had totally written off.
Perhaps my favourite part about Northwind is the guitarists. Stefan Weinerhall and Jimmy Hedlund lead the way with soaring leads. Fans of power metal couldn't ask for anything more, as the pair is extremely solid throughout, especially on tracks like Northwind and Spirit of the Hawk. Unlike before, the band's guitarists are not overshadowed by Blad. Not only is this much more enjoyable, it is also very effective. The rhythm guitar is also solid, yet not nearly as impressive as the leads.
Back in the day, the weakest link of Falconer was vocalist Matthias Blad. Yes, he is talented, but at the same time his voice was so nauseatingly painful to listen to, it just killed the album. Well, Blad left after Chapters from the Vale Forlorn, only to return again for this album. I have no idea where the man went, what he did, or how he did, but upon returning I can say without a doubt that he's improved. I would call him my favourite vocalist, but he's definitely much easier to listen to. For those who do not know, unlike the Michael Kiske's, Tony Kakko's, and ZP Theart's of the power metal world, Matthias Blad sings in an incredibly low voice. This is more or less the level he sings at throughout the album. If you're looking for high flying falsetto style vocals that is the norm of power metal, you'll either have to look somewhere else or learn to like Matthias' approach. Perhaps my favourite of Blad's performances are in the songs Waltz with the Dead and Spirit of the Hawk, especially in the choruses of both songs. You can tell Blad is an ace at what he does, and despite doubts I had about his return; I have to say that I'm glad he's back.
Northwind is a strong release from the Swedish power metal band. By far the best the band has done with current singer Matthias Blad, the album should definitely draw praise from fans of melodic metal. The album features some of the band's best work, with tracks such as Waltz With the Dead and Home of the Knave particularly standing out. On the live front, a song like Northwind should be a crowd favourite with its sing-along-esque chorus. While perhaps not one of the year's best albums, Falconer's fifth release should please fans and continue Falconer's growth as a band. Don't be afraid to pick this up if you have the chance.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
Falconer stumbled quite significantly on their previous release, last year's 'Grime vs. grandeur'. The CD marked quite a stylistic change for the band – almost completely gone were the folk melodies and medieval-themed lyrics that had dug them a rather unique niche in the scene, replaced by more straightforward, traditional metal arrangements and lyrics that tried (often failing spectacularly) to address social and personal issues. Some of the songs were still very good, but overall it came as a major disappointment as it seemed that Falconer had lost something of their identity. Many people put this dramatic slip-up down to the absence of vocalist Mathias Blad, who makes a welcome return on this venture, but seem to forget that 'Grime vs. grandeur' was actually the 2nd one to feature his replacement, the immensely versatile Kristoffer Göbel.
Songwriter Stefan Weinerhall seemed to take on board some of the criticism leveled at his writing on the previous CD and Falconer announced well in advance that they would be returning to the folk sound of old, and that they had decided that Mathias had to be re-hired for this change to be done properly. Many assumed then that 'Northwind' would be back to square one for Falconer, but upon actually hearing the CD it can be noted that this is not quite true – while returning to the style of songs that were found on their 's/t' debut or 'Chapters from a vale forlorn', the folk elements are now more prominent than ever. I guess you could say that it's more back to 'square 0.75' than anything else.
In the past, Falconer had generally played crunchy power metal that incorporated folk melodies and occasionally used more traditional instruments in the odd song. With 'Northwind', Falconer have almost crossed the line to becoming a full-blown folk metal band – they still haven't thrown themselves as far into the genre as the likes of Elvenking or the legendary Skyclad, but the difference is palpable. Acoustic guitars have a greater role to play, and the intensity of the songs has been taken down a notch or 2. The band still burst into full speed on many occasions of course, but a more wistful, reflective approach permeates the CD to a greater degree than ever before.
One of the key differences to be noted between 'Northwind' and the first 3 releases is the addition of symphonic elements to the songs. I can imagine a lot of readers rolling their eyes at the very thought of this, but there's no need to be worry – the keyboards-imitating-violins are used with great subtlety and tastefulness and are only there to add an extra touch of depth and class to already excellent songs. This isn't even close to Rhapsody's style of burying the rest of the band under layer upon layer of keyboards for the sake of sounding 'epic'.
However, on the complete flip side of the coin, there is one significant (and very welcome) holdover from 'Grime vs. grandeur' – lead guitarist Jimmy Hedlund offered something new to Falconer on his debut with the band, and he keeps up the good work here, peppering the songs with some blistering solos. Stefan has always made it clear he sees himself as a rhythm player above all else, and the first 3 Falconer CDs have very few outright, over-the-top solos - what we have here is something close to the style found on those releases, but with some excellent guitar shredding adding a new flavour to the songs.
On the whole, of course, this is a Falconer CD, and despite the changes noted above, it is still easily recognizable as such. Mathias Blad's wonderful mid-range voice adds real character to the songs that was sadly sometimes missing in his absence. Kristoffer is an excellent vocalist and did his utmost for Falconer, but upon hearing 'Northwind' it becomes more apparent than ever that Mathias really is the only man for the job. His voice, drifting between uplifting and melancholy, fits the medieval atmosphere created in Falconer songs like a glove, and makes it more apparent than ever that he was badly missed.
As you would expect, the galloping, stop-start rhythm guitar style that Stefan has made his trademark and the sudden jarring bursts of double-bass drumming from Karsten Larsson are of course littered throughout the CD, both executed to absolute perfection on the standout track "Catch the shadows". This song has everything that makes a great Falconer track and it stands proudly alongside other band classics such as "The clarion call" and "Mindtraveller". Fans of Falconer's bastardisations of traditional Swedish songs are in for a real treat as well – not only is there a bonus disc featuring no less than 4 of these songs, but Stefan has taken a jab at writing one of his own in "Himmel så trind". The song is entirely in Swedish (Mathias performance here is spine-tingling) and the music has a real 'old world' feel to it. Were it not for the writing credits in the inlay, one could easily have mistaken this for another traditional song done the Falconer way.
Without wanting to exhaustively sift through every track on the CD, it is far simpler to say that virtually everything on here will please both fans of Falconer's old material, (providing them a few surprises along the way) and newcomer fans of medieval-themed heavy metal alike. Everything expected from Falconer – soaring melodies, thick guitars, soothing folk passages, veiled social commentary (and songs about birds!) – is all present and accounted for and executed by a band back at the very top of their game. Attempts to revitalise a band through reintroducing former members so often fall flat (see Annihilator and Metal Church), but it is a pleasure to report that Falconer have provided another CD of high quality metal. 'Northwind' is a release with no bad songs – only some that are better than others, and under a very harsh light, some that don't match up to those on previous releases. But when it comes down to it, Falconer's comeback has been a triumphant one, providing another late contender for best album of 2006.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com)
The real Falconer has returned! Many credit only Mathias Blad for this, but I think that that is only part of it. For those of you who are not familiar with Falconer: Mathias Blad, the original singer, left the band for his stage-singing career and was replaced by Kristoffer Göbel. Many Falconer fans blame Göbel for the lack of quality they feel permeated The Sceptre of Deception and Grime VS Grandeur. I myself think that The Sceptre of Deception is a wonderful album, but I was very disappointed with Grime VS Grandeur. Göbel sang on both, but, as Stefan Weinerhall has stated, on the second one the music was altered to fit Göbel’s vocals. Today, I find Grime VS Grandeur to be a decent album, but I certainly missed the glory of the old days. And now it has returned!
Kristoffer Göbel was fired and Mathias Blad returned, together with the old folky style. Northwind is, in short, an album which combines the ideas and uniqueness of the early Falconer with a modern, more sophisticated packaging and final touch. The song material resembles the first two albums a bit. For example could “Spirit of the Hawk” well be from the first album, where its “sister-song” “Wings of Serenity” can be found.
The album as a whole is a mix of slow and fast songs, and the heaviness varies a lot too, from soft ballads like “Long Gone By”, via really folky, emotional tracks like “Legend and the Lore” to more heavy songs like “Perjury and Sanctity”. Falconer have not specialized in one of the types of songs the have used but do still take advantage of their whole register. Mathias Blad sings as always great, and some of the songs on here demand more of him than the earlier work he has done with Falconer.
Generally, the music has become more folky, more controlled, more perfected and a little more laid-back. This album focuses more on creating a mystical, folky emotion and this is more Folk Metal than the earlier albums. There are, however, still a fair amount of speedy Power Metal songs on here. The guitars are in focus, and the cooperation between Weinerhall’s rhythm guitar and Hedlund’s impressive lead guitar is really great. The drumming is solid as usual, with the experienced drummer, Karsten Larsson.
The lyrics have also improved, and even though some small grammatical mistakes slip in here and there, the content and the language have reached a higher level. The extreme alliteration in “Fairyland Fanfare” and the symbolic George W Bush-bashing in “Home of the Knave” are great examples of this.
Northwind is not the best of Falconer’s album but it joins the group of really great albums also consisting of Falconer, Chapters from a Vale Forlorn and The Sceptre of Deception. If we judge the current quality of Falconer by this album, the future promises great records.
Let's get something straight. I am a Falconer fan since 2005's Grime Vs Grandeur, which was a very good heavy metal album with folkish influences but not exactly Falconer. In that album they tried to make their music fit in with Karl Kristoffer Göbel's vocals, who is a very good heavy metal singer, but wasn't right for them. His vocals lacked the majestic tone that Mathias Blad's voice had.
I was really delighted when I heard that Mathias Blad is back and that the new material will be on the style of the first three albums. You see after having heard Grime Vs Grandeur, I bought the rest of their albums and having heard all of their efforts I was certain that I could expect more from them.
Fortunately, they have proved me right with this one. Northwind is a “return to the roots” album. The songs here are all more or less on the same level, as far as quality is concerned. So this means that there is no hit such as “Mindtraveller”or “Enter The Glade”, instead we have 14 songs of high quality which makes the final result very enjoyable. The lyrics might seem cheesy to some, but you can’t write power metal with folk influences and talk about politics, right? Mathias’ vocals are great; in fact I think that his singing is superior compared to the first two albums. How on earth could he manage something like that? Really his voice sounds just great, it makes you close your eyes, and just travel in places you’ve never been before. Jimmy Hedlund & Stefan Weinerhall, the guitar duo of Falconer have done a great job in this record. The album is full of great folk melodies. Also, I have to state that I love the solos on this record. Good job Jimmy!!! The rhythm section of the band (Magnus Linhardt on bass & Karsten Larsson on drums) are good players and they definitely show it in this record.
Overally I’d like to say that this surely is a better album than the last 2 (Scepter Of Deception & Grime Vs Grandeur). And since there is not a hit song in this record which could give the album a few extra points, this record is their third best effort to date, the first being the s/t efford followed by Chapters From Vale Forlorn. So 90% it is and I’m waiting for something even better in the future. May Northwind embrace them…