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Wuthering Heights is firstly known as an Emily Brontë novel and perhaps secondly as a Kate Bush song. I’ve always found the former to be an overpraised tragedy and the latter to simply be tragic, so my initial thought upon first being recommended a band that took their name from such inauspicious sources was frankly, derisive. I’ve been wrong before and I know I’ll be wrong again, but I don’t think I’ll ever be so terribly incorrect in the future. Wuthering Heights deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Blind Guardian, Helloween, and Gamma Ray; nay, it deserves to precede that list of power metal majesty. Bluntly stated, Wuthering Heights is the greatest power metal band. Period. The end.
Now that the effusive praise for the band is out of the way, let’s move on to why I worship their fourth full-length, The Shadow Cabinet. From the opening strains of “Demon Desire” it’s obvious you’re listening to something special. The rolling piano scales, the jaunty and frantic pace, the absolutely soaring vocals of a god walking amongst mere mortals, Nils Patrick Johansson, everything immediately crystalizes into the perfect expression of what all power metal aspires to. The flawless pacing of the song carries the listener forward with mounting anticipation for what’s to come. Sticking with “Demon Desire”, the quirky, almost folkish guitar and keyboard break at 3:29 serves as the hors d'oeuvre for the sweet, but never saccharine, feast to follow.
Emotions run rampant all through The Shadow Cabinet. From the melancholic and resentful strains of “Beautifool” to the self-righteous anger and barely disguised fury of “I Shall Not Yield”, guitarists Martin Arendal and Erik Ravn, band leader and primary composer for Wuthering Heights, paint with delicate, purposeful strokes. Victory riffs mingle with chords of desperation, running the gauntlet of man’s experience in love, war, death, and self-discovery. The primary lead of “Faith – Apathy Divine Part 1” is simple, but it possesses an ethereal quality that won’t quite leave the mind. Effortless transitions between classic Swedish/Danish folk melodies, German thrash riffing, and even some NWOBHM tinkering flow inter and intra-song. This is the first of two advantages Wuthering Heights has over their power metal brethren: the dynamic shifts and clever exploration of all the electric guitar has to offer is impossible to overstate.
The second advantage Wuthering Heights possesses is the vocal chords of the divine Nils Patrick Johansson. His mastery of both the gruff, leather spikes and attitude style and the soaring, I mean truly soaring, power of his upper range must be heard to be believed. He’s a vocal chameleon, shifting from verse to verse as dictated by his own artistic genius and Ravn’s outstanding composition. “Envy” provides one of the best examples of Johansson’s range and control. Draped over the music like some velvet sheet studded with the occasion metal spike, he regularly dances through several octaves without losing an ounce of authority. “I Shall Not Yield” shows that he could make a great death metal vocalist with the 30 second growling ‘break’ that flows into the final climatic crescendo. I have no problem putting Nils Patrick Johansson in the same category as Freddie Mercury, Hansi Kürsch, Brad Delp, or Andre Matos – with an emotional soul underlying every word, every crooned or spat phrase, Johansson belongs in the pantheon of all-time best rock/metal singers.
Bassist Teddy Möller, drummer Morten Gade Sørensen, and keyboardist Andreas Lindahl serve as the perfect backing band to the pyrotechnic guitar and vocal work. Sørensen’s drumming gallops through most of the song, adding subtle cymbal hits and the occasional 2-bar blast beat as emphatic punctuation when necessary. As with all metal bands, the bass is a bit buried in the mix. However, with a nice pair of stereo headphones, one can hear Möller’s frenetic playing keeping up the labyrinthian guitar melodies. Bass is an instrument that doesn’t often make its presence known, but its absence would be keenly felt. For Wuthering Heights, the richness of their sound would be harmed without Möller’s steady fingers cleverly holding his own in the midst of such intricate song structures. Finally, the atmospheres Andreas Lindahl creates add the perfect amount of tension and/or relief to such an emotionally complex album. His moody miasma is most obvious on the ‘skit’ track “Reason…?” but there are flourishes and background chords permeating the record, adding yet another piece to the sonic tapestry.
If The Shadow Cabinet has a misstep it’s the song “Sleep”. While not a bad track by any means, and yet another vehicle for Johansson to prove his dominance, it’s not close to the quality of the other songs (“Reason…?” is not included as it’s essentially an extended intro for “Carpe Noctem”), any one of which bands like Blind Guardian or Falconer would have been thrilled to write. Speaking of writing, I’d be remiss to not include a few lyrical snippets. Perhaps it’s my innate bias toward non-native speakers’ command of English showing through, but I was genuinely surprised at the emotional depth and clever composition of the lyrics. Take this line from “Envy” for example: “To overthrow his masters / Always the slave, by healthy envy was driven / But is my envy still healthy / When I wish not to inherit the castles they live in.” The song itself deals with the idea of envy as a driving emotion, whether it becomes a source of motivation or cancerous hate. “Carpe Noctem” contains my favorite chorus on an album stuffed with memorable moments: “Throw your voice high into the air full of pride / Find your own road to glory / Use what powers life may give you / Never cease the fight / If you cannot win the day / Seize the night”. Inspirational? A clarion call to arms for loving oneself in the midst of a power metal song? What's going on here? Well-phrased and well-intentioned, Wuthering Heights hits it out of the proverbial park time and again.
If the length of this review is any indication, I love this record. From the virtuoso performances offered by the band to the single best vocal performance on a power metal album, The Shadow Cabinet has it all: thoughtful, incisive, beautiful, motivational, and just damn catchy. Anyone with an interest in music, much less metal should give this a listen. Wuthering Heights aren’t nearly as well-known as they should be considering the absurdly high quality of all five full-length albums, but it’s The Shadow Cabinet that moves them from great power metal to greatest power metal.
Most good albums you don’t like the first time you hear them. They take time to grow on you. Occasionally you find a good album you like from the first spin but it loses its spark after a while but still stays by definition, a “good” album. More uncommon is an album that’s enjoyable from the first spin and stays good for spins to come. Rarer still, is an album that you love from the first listen and after that with every listen you come to enjoy it even more. Wuthering Heights’ “The Shadow Cabinet” is that kind of album.
I have often cursed this Danish band and their ineffable sound that varies from album to album. If you played every Wuthering Heights album to someone who’s never heard them before and he’ll swear every album is from a different band. If you thought they would continue the bombastic folky progressive power metal you heard on “Far From the Madding Crowd” you’d be dead wrong. Well, it’s still bombastic folky progressive power metal but ummm... crap, you get the idea, right?
Actually, The Shadow Cabinet is a bit more straightforward than their other albums but only to the point where you can give a slight idea of what the sound is through words. It’s dark and nihilistic power metal. They lose the extremely prominent folk influences from “Far From the Madding Crowd” and instead attain a more symphonic and riff oriented sound but still keep folk influences alive. The heaviness factor that was escalated in the aforementioned album has been increased tenfold. From the moment the album begins you know this isn’t any sort of Wuthering Heights album you heard before. Want to know why? This is the first Wuthering Heights album to not start with an intro and instead goes straight into the wicked, neck-snapping opener “Demon Desire,” which sounds like a fiendish version of “Hunter in the Dark” from their first album.
The soothing and medieval atmosphere found on the previous two albums has been replaced with complete apathy and merciless coldness. Sure, one would expect Wuthering Heights to release unique sounding albums but this is such a big turn around it’s completely depraved. It’s so full of deathly emotions and utter misanthropy it’s unspeakable. Not to the point of depression, however, instead the malign music somehow initiates feelings of joy. Not the typical joy but the twisted feeling of sick pleasure you get from knowing the world around you is vile and black. Amidst this onslaught of depravity, there’s an almost mute voice inspiring you to escape harsh reality and find a path of your own. To quote the album: “...I shall count these the last days of the sun, and seek comfort in darkness 'til my lifethread is spun.”
Vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson stays for this album. Wuthering Heights made a smart decision keeping him since there isn’t a man whose voice can project these bleak emotions so beautifully. Not all the vocal work on this album is evil and malice. Listen to the first verse to “Carpe Noctem” or the song “Sleep” to see exactly how talented this guy is as a vocalist and the diversity of this album. Speaking of “Carpe Noctem,” the vocal interlude “Reason...?” that comes before is just so utterly perfect it’s a wonder why it isn’t part of the song. Wuthering Heights are one of the few bands with enjoyable interludes and intros and I’ve never missed out on listening to “Carpe Noctem” without listening to “Reason...?” first. Want to know why? Johansson just unleashes those crushing emotions of hopelessness and desperation so well with that 30-second piece it would be unfathomable to not listen to it before “Carpe Noctem.” That’s how incredible this guy’s vocal work on this album is.
The folk influences on this album are sparse but not altogether gone (see the ending of “Faith – Apathy Divine”). What stays is the perfect production and top-notch instrumental work. The guitar work in songs like “Beatifool” is just astounding and give a listen to “The Raven.” Why, it makes you wonder why it took so long for Erik Ravn to write a song called “The Raven” and it makes you wonder if you’ll find such flawless bass work anywhere else. Although there isn’t a mind blowing instrumental here like on their previous two albums, give a listen to the intro of “Carpe Noctem” if you want jaw-dropping guitar work.
And for four straight albums in a row Erik Ravn has blessed us with great lyrics. So many mind-numbingly catchy choruses and quotable quotes it’s utter insanity. Perhaps because the lyrics on this album are a lot more personal than previous albums so they’re a lot more involving and inspiring.
Once again I’d like to urge all people to get this album. I recommend it to everyone except dipshits. I don’t care what your taste in music is, if you don’t like this album you aren’t human by any definition. My only quarrel with this album is I don’t have the Shadow Of A Gipsy cover bonus track. I will soon, though, money well spent I tell ya!
I've been listening to this album non-stop, so it's time to review what could almost be seen as a very strong continuation of Far From the Maddening Crowd.
This album is really exactly what I wanted from this band: hooks galore, awesome often folky riffs, super tight, punchy drumming, outstanding vocal performances from both singers, a palette of many genres, and a nice helping of complexity to top it all off.
The grand folk infused power metal continues here, with only two discernable differences. Both of which are improvements.
The first difference is heaps of riffs with a touch of impressive and refreshing complexity. Some songs just have an obscene number of riffs, and few of them don't completely kick ass. There is a good bit of complexity as they dance between many different styles, sometimes only giving a tip of the hat in a part here, and only skimming the surface there.
Unless I simply was ignorant of past shining lyrical accomplishments, the second difference is well written and insightful lyrics. I am very rarely impressed with lyrics - be it for high standards on my part or a general apathy, or inability on the part of most metalheads writing lyrics - I am, however, quite smitten with the lyrics here.
Every song has character and charm. I agree with the last reviewer that Sleep is probably the weakest track; starting with a Middle Eastern chant-like a capalla section (very strange), I think the problem with the song is that it’s a very drastic turn around from the rest of the album. But otherwise all the songs managed to convey power and show the band's finesse.
Carpe Noctum is a superb closing track. After an awesome neo-classical riff, the song hushes down into a soft, reflective and somber mid tempo progressive part, which builds up seamlessly. After a number of other parts (yes, this album has a great many of them) and the chorus, the band returns to that awesome neo-classical riff. And then into an epic symphonic phase with a choir and endless little solos and parts. The fact that I have such difficulty putting what I'm hearing into words is to the band's credit. It proves that they're not just smearing the lines between genres, they're destroying the foundations of genres altogether.
This is indeed a worthy follow-up to Far From the Maddening Crowd - and that should tell you all you need to know.
Wutheringht Heights is a really unique band. They play Power Metal, but not your typical Power Metal. It's actually Progressive Power Metal. Well, it has some Neoclassic elements. It has also folk elements (celtic ones), and uses some folk instruments on some songs. The ballad of the album even begins with a celtic chant that could comefrom a Chieftain album. So Neoclassic Folk Progressive Power Metal. If that isn't enough, just know that the singer isn't generic, having a unique voice with an amazing range. Good beginning, uh?
Now, if you like that, the only thing left is the songwriting. And it's actually amazing. "Demon Desire" it's an amazing opener, with an amazing use of keyboards, beginning the album with blasting Power Metal. "Envy" it's the most complete and progressive song. With amazing riffs, and at about 2:00, it speeds up, following a solo. Really cool and amazing. "Sleep" it's the only ballad of the album, very celtic oriented. The beginning could be extemely boring if you aren't used to celtic chants, and could be a skip track for most people. But check the extra fast solo. You didn't expect that, eh? Finally, "Carpe Noctum - Seize the Night" (what a cool name) has a solo with a neoclassic feeling.
This album, as the previous, also has a song with a second part. "Faith" and "Snow" are the "Apathy Divine duo". Compared to the "Longing for the Woods trio", this one it's much better. I don't see them so much connected musically, maybe it's just on the lyrics. But that's not bad, as it was quite annoying hearing the same chorus on three songs of the same album. To some people, that could be a bit pesky. "Faith" it's also the longest song on the album, and probably the folkiest one. There is an amazing folky riffing at about 4:05, that's is as good as the one on the "Herne's Prophecy" of the previous album. "Snow", even though it isn't as good, it's another highlight of the album.
This is, with no doubt, the best album of the band. In "Far from the Maddening Crowd" there was the amazing blend of genres, but it was an album that could bore after too many listens. This album still manages to sound fresh after a lot of listens, which if you didn't know, it's a good thing.
The only flaw I see on the album it's that the only ballad, "Sleep", it's inferior to both ballads of the previous album. If there was another "Lament for Lorien" or the like on this album, it could have got the perfect rating. Even though, extremely recommended to any metalhead.