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Looking at the creators of this cd, I arrive at the conclusion that it isn’t the best name in the metal world. Hmm…The Storyteller...and this kitschy front cover with members in the foreground and some forest behind them; it looks like somebody took glue and inserted these stone-like people into the artificial greenery. It is really good work for kindergarten children. This is the beginning and things don’t look good, do they? Alright, for sure the main important matter is the music itself, and here I have to write that these Swedes from Gävle have prepared an absolutely stunning piece of metal! Although the album is entitled “Tales Of A Holy Quest”, in my personal ranking the word ‘holy’ turns to ‘metal’, so let’s start this emotional journey into the world of crushing heavy metal and the atrocious times of the Inquisition.
This is the third album by The Storyteller, but unfortunately I didn’t hear the previous ones. The fact is they don’t play death and black. Another fact is that L.G. Persson and company bathe in an excellent mix of heavy and power metal supported by the powerful production of Studio Fredman. I read one interview with Persson during his promotion of this work and there he said they esteemed Blind Guardian a lot (even about some influences). Maybe they love them, maybe they can build an altar for Germans, but musically The Storyteller is in another dimension, a much better dimension, definitely. Surely I can write that this stuff makes of the best heavy metal slabs released in the 21st century. Allowably, my first attention goes to the vocal effort. Here Persson is undeniably in top form, and I find some originality because no names of other vocalists come to my mind. I think this is rather a marriage of the best heavy power metal voices. Musically, the band does everything (fast, slow, and acoustic parts) in good proportion, which means that boredom doesn’t exist.
Writing about the musical side, I have to talk about lyrics because they are a very important part. They are created by L.G. Persson himself, writing a lyrical concept album based on the witch trials in Sweden during 1668-1676. His lyrics refer mostly to the fearful events that took place in Torsåker Parish. Each song is prefaced by words of explanation and it is really worthy of reading. Alright, let’s go to the first song called “Voices From The Past” which is, in fact, a short intro that turns into the proper track “Seed Of Lies”. Perfect for the start, the guitarists Fredrik Groth and Jacob Wennerqvist attack with hard riffs decorated by fresh melodious parts. All is mixed with tempos changing and some powerful backing vocals in the chorus. Also, I have to write about excellent guitar leads and short acoustic fragments that is the beginning of the second part of “Seed Of Lies”. As I stated earlier, this is an extremely good track, but appetite comes with eating, and here these Swedes don’t fail because with no time break, “Conviction” strikes without mercy. The title says it all (the victims had no chance before the court), and this is a fast, energetic track with a superb chorus and a two-piece solo lead. In addition, on the end there is a culminating point when the choir sings “Liberate me ex inferis!”. I am just under the impression that the musicians can vocally and musically take me into those days before the court and this is the absolute main advantage of this album.
Ok, the next three songs are nothing new compared to the previous killers: “A Holy Quest” (mid-tempo with a paralyzing guitar lead), “Words Out Of Greed” (probably the fastest one with a fascinating story), and “Chamber Of Torture” (no solo here, but after rapid beginning there is a mid-tempo tunes with an acoustic fragment). I slowly reach the next one called “The Mass” which has two parts. The first is acoustic with very calm, yet distinct singing when Persson defines all the prices for the common people believing in God, then after ninety seconds the track gets another ‘life’ as hard guitars dominate. Here the vocalist (with a choir in the chorus) sings about the punishment and fires of Hell waiting for the unbelievers and unfaithful ones. With the introduction written in the booklet, Persson asks many ‘uncomfortable’ questions and describes the basis of witch hunts. After some whiles of revery, “Blinded Eyes” brings fast tempos that turn into “When All Hope Has Faded”, the acoustic ballad where lyrics are only hypothetical, but completely true, and Persson presents thoughts of the accused about their families and friends: “they can hurt your body, but can’t take your soul”. With the next song, “Trails Of Blood” is an eight minute colossus, and the band makes a final step toward an inevitable and tragic end. The complexity of this song (fine guitar work, memorable vocals and tempo changes) is a big advantage as it helps make the atmosphere of those bloody two days where seventy poor and innocent people were decapitated and burned at the stake on a hill in Torsåker. The album is ended by the short outro “…And Still They Speak” and the ominous silence falls.
It is very seldom when a lyrical concept is so close to the overall songwriting. These elements are top level and make one inseparable entity. One fact is interesting in the case of the album: these eleven songs didn’t conquer my metal heart at once. I needed several careful meetings with “Tales…” and then I could say, yes, this is really great metal stuff and I can courageously write that this album is the best in heavy and power genre released in the 21st century. Sadly, The Storyteller is still in the deep underground, yet they managed to release one more album and split up. Fortunately, this year the Swedes have decided to come back, but I have to wait for some music news, so if you want to hear metal with balls with fascinating lyrics, you know what to do. And one thing to end this review: the outro is entitled “…And Still They Speak”, and I am one with the band that all these spirits are present and speak about murders through the album “Tales Of A Holy Quest".
After eight years of power metal bands obsessing over the concept album format, inspired by Gamma Ray’s “Land of the Free”, bands began composing albums in the more traditional portfolio format. One of the last hold outs in 2003 was Swedish outfit The Storyteller, whose name hints at a band that would always specialize in the concept album style, though they too would abandon it after this release. “Tales of a Holy Quest” takes a different route from the two-part Kail saga that preceded it, delving into the history of the witch trials that took place in 17th century Sweden.
The Hammerfall approach of Judas Priest worship is still heavily prominent on this release, although the speed and aggression has been ratcheted up a bit further and Perrson’s vocal performance is continuing to improve. The general flow of the album reflects a much more mature outfit, avoiding the folk metal tendency to overemphasize the ballads and downplay the meat and potatoes of the speed/power metal influences that was present on the debut. “Seed of Lies”, “Chamber of Torture, “Words out of Greed”, Conviction”, and “Blinded Eyes” are all pure speed crushers with catchy choruses and signature riffs that all avoid being overlong, the first of the fold being the most memorable.
Though there is a heavier concentration of pure speed on here, the band has not forgotten how to keep it from being one-dimensional and also throw in some varied work. “The Mass” is a quasi-medieval minstrel influenced ballad in the vain of Blind Guardian, starting acoustic, and then going electric in the same manner as the 2 Bard Songs off Somewhere Far Beyond respectively. “When all hope has faded” is simpler in its nature, consisting of a very exposed yet well executed vocal performance with a single guitar accompanying it. “A Holy Quest” is the lone mid-tempo rocker and follows the same basic structure as their previous songs in this style, putting the emphasis on the voice and keeping the riffs simple.
As with the 2 previous releases, the real highlight of the album is the epic that comes towards the end in “Trails of Blood”, which essentially combines all of the previous elements into one large scale anthem. The melodies are reminiscent of Blind Guardian, the contrasting sections transition smoothly, and Perrson’s voice is at its best; moving even closer to the Eric Adams sound I heard hints of on earlier work. The best point of this song is the breakdown section with a choir of grunting voices chanting “Burn!” over and over, reminding a bit of a similar moment in Metallica’s immortal classic “Creeping Death”.
The history that inspired this album is quite intriguing, as one has to wonder how witch trials of this horrid a nature could have occurred so late in Europe, didn’t we learn from the Inquisition? Much like my fellow Catholic brethren, the Lutheran and Calvinist Churches have a history of violence that is oddly interconnected. Although the reasons for the violence are obviously tied with the desire of the churches to maintain their power and influence, their success in these atrocities were largely tied to their control over the respective governments that ran the countries they were located in. While the Vatican was a political entity onto itself, but it had to contend with secular rulers and make sure that they were in line before acting. The Church of Sweden, by contrast, were the rulers de facto and thus the dubious though still existent separation of powers in the case of the former did not delay the inevitability of the outcome. If anything, this album does much to bolster my continuing support of a separation of church and state.
I am impressed by the band’s strong sense of history and faithfulness to its sanctity. If travesties like this are to be avoided in the future, with an ever decaying education system, it might well fall upon musicians and artists to retell these events in history to the next generation. If you like bands such as Manowar, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Nocturnal Rites, and Gamma Ray then this is a good album to get. Although musically it is not quite as powerful as “Underworld”, its value both as a piece of art and brilliant heavy metal homage to history are undeniable.
The Storyteller have always been sort of a second-tier power metal act, and this isn’t likely to change much with this release, their third full-length album. The style of music they play is much the same as seen on 2002’s Crossroad – it’s still your standard power metal fare. The music is upbeat but never too speedy, and always seems to lack that certain something that would take it to the top of the power metal heap. That being said, this stuff is still somewhat enjoyable; just don’t expect it to blow you away.
I really think the band’s weak point continues to be the singer, L-G Persson. Let’s face it, folks: as a vocalist he’s pretty limited. He just doesn’t have the range to compete with the likes of Daniel Heiman and other vocal gods. However, having a limited range is not always a big problem so long as you understand your range and compose melodies that fit what you can do. In this sense the band are partially successful – some of the songs fit quite well with Persson’s style. For example, the chorus on “Seed of Lies” is done quite well. However, in the same song, around the 3:35 mark Persson does the soft/low vocal approach, something which is just cringe-inducing to my ears. In general, however, Persson does a fair job of working with what he has. The downside of having a singer with a limited range comes in monotony – a lot of the songs sound similar. In fact, the album is bookended by the two best songs – “Seed of Lies” and “Trails of Blood” (I’m not counting the intro and outro). The stuff in the middle, unless you’re really listening closely, often seems to run together without a lot of variation. There are plenty of acoustic interludes, sing-along choruses, medieval touches, double bass drums, and so on, but nothing really stands out. The production is decent overall but lacks punch, making everything sound kind of flat and stale. However, I’ve heard much worse for a power metal record, so I can’t complain too much.
As I mentioned, this release is somewhat enjoyable, but that’s about it. In today’s supersaturated power metal scene “somewhat enjoyable” isn’t likely to cut it – it certainly won’t get you to the top. For three albums now this band has been chugging along in the “average power metal” zone. If you can’t get enough power metal then you’re sure to enjoy it; more discriminating listeners likely won’t see anything special about it, and may even be turned off by the vocals or the general blandness of it. Definitely check out some samples before buying.