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The western kingdom stands well guarded. - 95%

hells_unicorn, December 6th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Scarlet Records (Digipak)

The Nordic winds must have been blowing a bit harder and traveling further in the past several years, as several bands hailing the exploits of the Vikings, or otherwise opening literature delving into related lore and presenting a similar stylistic niche to the one that has been all the rage in Scandinavia for about 15 years have been springing up in Southern Europe. Perhaps among the more curious outfits to rise out of this recent trend is Tuscany’s own Wind Rose, a band that was more or less discovered and produced by former Labyrinth bassist Cristiano Bertocchi, and has now become their full time bassist. They made a respectable yet uneven attempt at separating themselves from the pack with their debut LP Shadows Over Lothadruin, a medieval fantasy-based concept album that sought to straddle the divide between the epic pomp of Rhapsody Of Fire, the multifaceted and technical prowess of Symphony X and a folksy gloss that could be likened to Elvenking and Ensiferum. Needless to say, while the results were fairly unique and reasonably solid, it didn’t quite reach the point of being the kind of breakout debut that puts a newcomer on the map and seemed to sacrifice coherence in the name of originality.

While there is a lot of truth to the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, things took such a mighty turn at some point between 2012 and the release of their sophomore follow up Wardens Of The West Wind that most would likely see this as an entirely different band. This change in direction is not really so much one of style, but rather of focus and refinement, as the folksy tunes, symphonic bluster and period instrument sounds are quite intact, though amplified to the point of resembling the likes of Turisas and Equilibrium, and the blistering power metal drive and rhythmic progressive twists are likewise still in place. To put it in simpler terms, where the debut was a progressive power act that would occasionally dabble in folk themes as a gimmick, this album presents a folk metal outfit that injects a dual dose of progressive songwriting and power metal edge into their craft. Comparisons to the free flowing songwriting approach and power metal edge of recent Tyr offerings would not be out of the question, though the riffing still has a definite Symphony X edge to it and vocalist Francesco Cavalieri still sounds a good bit like Russell Allen in spite of looking like a berserker variant on Joakim Broden.

Though not a conceptual work like its predecessor, from a music standpoint everything is tied together as if these 10 musical works were chapters in the same epic novel. The atmosphere is possessed of a massive theatrical quality between the wide array of orchestrated sounds in the background, and frequent gang-chorus and layered harmonized voices that sound like Ensiferum on steroids paint every other line of every lyrical section. Some offerings such as “Sparticus” and “Ode To The West Wind” get a bit a bit more keyboard happy and technical and hearken back slightly to the debut, but mostly this is just a constant stream of fast-paced grandeur and chanting choirs that spends more time instilling imagery from Game Of Thrones in the listeners mind than wowing them with instrumental gymnastics. It actually gets a fair bit difficult to differentiate one song from the next as they are so loaded up with varying ideas and progress constantly, though there is a slight Alestorm character of simplicity to be found in the closer “Rebel And Free”, and the obviously pirate-oriented epic “Skull And Crossbones” carries some Running Wild moments, though steeped in a heavy barrage of orchestration and interwoven vocal lines.

This isn’t a mere impressive comeback, nor is it a full redemption from a flawed beginning, but a dramatic rebirth on par with a banished prince with only a dagger and the clothes on his back going on to conquer the known world. Though a bit more in line with what is popular in folk and power metal circles of late, Wardens Of The West Wind is a highly distinctive offering that brings a greater accessibility of the melodeath oriented folk metal world of Equilibrium and Finsterforst to the power metal masses that don’t necessarily go for harsh vocals, whereas also giving both scenes a more involved and complex listening experience. Turisas never conceived of anything this kinetic and complex, nor has Tyr managed to create an atmosphere so massive as to listen like an extended homage to the Skyrim theme “Song Of The Dragonborn”. That’s the calling card that Wind Rose now ties to the talon of their mighty falcons, a sound so massive and over the top that it conjures a parallel world of heroism and wonder out of thin air. Those highly decorative warrior outfits and that mighty beard with a barbarian hair cut aren’t just for show, after all.