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Stormlord has existed for 20 years or so. Most of their career - the time before their previous album Mare Nostrum - they were comfortable in the genre of mediocre death metal. Their efforts weren't particularly bad but... You know how it is with mediocrity. In their earlier albums they had scattered hints of what was about to come. Since Mare Nostrum (2008) which is arguably their best work to date, in my opinion their magnum opus, they have switched/developed the genre and matured musically to a point that is... just awesome. No more boring death metal guitar chugging, generic minor 3rd harmonies, amateurish riffs and song structures and so on. Hesperia is said by the band to be a concept album. For me it is a second part of a bigger concept which does not only entail lyrical themes (Greek, Roman mythology, battles, longing for those times) but their whole newly-found musical path and a dramatic increase in quality.
That new musical path contains several elements: heavy use of synths which are usually the driving force of the songs, the use of harmonic minor scales which give us that middle-eastern feel, slower pace with rhythmically dominant guitars, not to mention the epic lyrical themes. The interplay and integration of these elements is so goddamn perfect that I find myself in grave hardships when trying to put it in words. It might be argued that the structure of their songs is repetitive but they have hit the winning formula. Anyone with a reasonable experience of songwriting recognizes the sheer musical maturity that is present in this album.
So what is this structurally winning formula? The biggest reason I call it "winning" is the fact that it is hard to pin-point. The songs have a lot of ideas in them - that is certain, but the way they transition to one another often eludes me. They are so smooth they go unnoticed, yet they're evidently there. That is what I call musical perfection. The songs tend to start out slow with synths providing the melody and guitars the rhythm. Then it's essentially a black box. I've noticed that guitars often develop into a riff of some sort and then to a melody which is not imitating the synts at all yet fit to a song very well. The songs are near the 5 minute mark so the ideas switch up a lot.
I'd like to elaborate on the pleasant ways they use their guitars. Generally, in metal the mentioned instrument is a given. It is something that is constantly in your face and most of the time you are cool with it. However, the constant use of the guitar is also counterproductive in a sense that it strips the instrument of its newness, it removes the sense of wonder from the listener and therefore drops the perceived quality of the composition that it is apart of because it has been heard over and over... With the late Stormlord, this is not an issue. Instead you wait in awe to see what they are about to do next with their stringed instruments in any part of their songs on Hesperia. Restraint can be a beautiful thing.
Needless to say, the drums are awesome. This is a band that likes to show off their drummer from what I've gathered: their youtube channel has a bunch of their songs being played with the focus on their drummer. Their black metal styled vocals are one of the best I've heard. In fact they are so good that their main function to me is that of another instrument not the lyrical content itself. That's right, Stormlord is a band that can be rightfully considered epic without taking account of their lyrical themes! As said, those were mythological and grandly nostalgic without exceptions.
So after all that, why not 100% instead of 94%? Because of this albums predecessor Mare Nostrum. Hesperia is just not as good but I wouldn't have expected a better follow-up. I actually thought that Mare Nostrum was going to be a one hit wonder sort of thing. Gladly I was wrong, it is almost as worthy. Here's why.
The first song of this album - "Aeneas" - was unimpressive. While it was masterfully crafted it's constitutive parts lacked any sort of memorability to them. The content was weak while it was assembled together pleasingly. I'm still a bit unsure about the last song of the album which is around the 9 minute mark. It has many top-notch melodic ideas, unexpected instruments and such but I am left wondering whether this could have been packed into a shorter period of time, might be too dragged out. My last qualm is about the song "My Lost Empire" which uses the exact same rhythmic riff as its starting point as the song "Scorn" on Mare Nostrum as its main riffs ending point. The same phrase repeats quite a lot on both songs so it is bound to get noticed. I view it as a bad thing, not everyone does.
If you can appreciate the beauty of quality epic metal then this album is for you. It would be criminal to listen to this album and not Mare Nostrum aswell. Both of them - atleast for me - take several listens to fully grasp. If the first time doesn't do much for you, listen atleast one more time.