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Finally striking the right balance - 80%

Radagast, September 29th, 2013

Much like some privileged student on a gap year, Wolfchant seem to have spent their last 2 CDs "finding themselves". Attempting to expand their enjoyable-yet-derivative sound into something a bit more unique saw them reap some rewards, but also hit a few potholes in the process.

The tentative addition of Michael Seifert’s operatic vocals to their melodic death/folk metal melting pot on ‘Determined damnation’ opened a lot of new doors for them as a band, but his full-time appointment for the following ‘Call of the black winds’ was handled a little clumsily and caused as many problems as it solved.

Thankfully a more considered approach has been taken for the new ‘Embraced by fire’ CD, as rather than trying to simply force a new vocalist onto their existing style of songwriting, the 7-strong line-up have actually gone some way to reinventing themselves for a 5th CD that is their most mature and cohesive so far.

Despite being a full 10 minutes shorter than its immediate predecessor, the simplest way to describe their new approach is “bigger”. Following on from the lush, cinematic intro track, not one 7 of the full songs is less than 5 1/2 minutes long, and each one is loaded with seemingly more of everything.

Far from being a negative point though, the songs have all been crafted with a renewed care; some blare with huge symphonic bombast, others have relentless blast-beat sections that hark back to the more black metal approach of old Wolfchant, while on more than a few tracks lead guitarist Skaahl really pushes himself further than he has in the past with some towering solos. All of this newfound expansiveness is kept within a well-maintained border of tastefulness, and none of the songs are allowed to run away with themselves.

Perhaps the most important feature of an all-round improvement though is a more considered approach to balancing the band’s 2 vocalists. On ‘Call of the black winds’ they hit full-on 3 Inches of Blood syndrome, overloading the songs with vocals to try and give both singers a fair shake, but there is more carefully arranged interplay here, with the harsh vocals used more often as a counterpoint to the clean singing which has become the dominant side of the equation.

As Seifert’s epic timbre remains Wolfchant’s single strongest weapon, it is natural that he occupies more of a leading place in proceedings on his 2nd CD as a full member. Original vocalist Lokhi (by contrast the band’s weak link, but presumably in with the bricks) is gently eased to the side somewhat, getting less time to sing solo than he did on ‘Call of the black winds’, though one minor niggle is that too many of the choruses feature both frontmen singing in tandem.

Even leaving aside the issue of getting their house in order with the singing, ‘Embraced by fire’ represents a big step forward for Wolfchant. Hard work has doubtlessly paid off on a CD that finally sees things click into place for a more unified and natural sound, where the songs all compliment one another and there are finally no stand-out weak moments getting in the way. It’s a nice testament to perseverance and moreover a damn fine symphonic folk metal CD in its own right.

(Originally written for