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No one sounds like WUTHERING HEIGHTS. And don’t think I don’t know how big a call that is. This is the band, after all, that has a vocalist that sounds more like Dio than Dio does. Or that every one of their releases comes complete with an OBI strip of sorts crapping on about how the album’s for fans of BLIND GUARDIAN or SYMPHONY X or the like. Well forget it. The truth is they’re practically untouchable. Here’s why.
Erik Ravn writes everything. Or I should say he rewrites everything. Before this album he was the only one that came close to giving ELVENKING a run for their money in the folk department. And when it came to prog – he simply left the building while every other prog band hung around to look up the word “chorus” in the dictionary.
Within a minute of throwing ‘The Shadow Cabinet’ on you’ll know this is a songwriter at the height of his powers. Call it mature. Call it grown up. But nothing will prepare you for how catchy, melodramatic and powerful this release is. The lyrics alone would put most metal bands to shame. Songs like “Demon Desire” seem straightforward enough at first glance. This one’s about lust, but no eighties cock-rock throwback here. The raw pain of animal desire is set to a double kick speed metal outburst that leads straight into a collection of verses set to a metal gallop on their way to a chorus that stabs. That’s right – stabs.
The thinking man’s metal tone continues with “Beautifool”. The way cool song title is just the beginning for this meditation on the ugliness of beauty. Trust me it works. As do “The Raven” and “Faith”. All manage to carve something out of power, speed, folk or prog to produce pummeling choruses that separates desperate verses with racing bridges that most other bands would kill to have as a chorus on the opening track of their album made up of fillers.
The home stretch is generally where bands phone it in, but think again is the motto of songs like “Snow” (a sequel to “Faith”) and “I Shall Not Yield” – each equipped with a deceptively low key intro that transforms into yet another volcanic eruption of speed metal with enough melody to drown whole genres. And “Carpe Noctem – Seize the Night” rounds things off by toying between speed and mid-pace metal just long enough to throw up an anthem that’s got speed ticket written all over it if you’re out driving.
Now that’s where the album normally ends unless you pick up the bonus track edition. Which is what you’re going to do, or you won’t get “Midnight Song”. It’s equal to anything on the album. That’s not just saying something. That’s saying you know what to do.
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.