The bard’s flame never flickers.
Few would question the consequential role that Sweden has played in metal music’s ascendancy, but it is often taken for granted how pivotal said nation would be in the genre’s survival during its hour of tribulation. Apart from a burgeoning extreme underground movement that the Scandinavian country in question also participated heavily in, the 1990s were arguably a time of crisis due to a sense of stagnation that had seeped into the more mainline expressions of this art form. While Germany could be seen as a major focal point in the resurgence of power metal in the lead up to the new millennium, the rising tide of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene would see a number of prominent players emerge that would offer up a fairly different take on the speed metal-oriented character of Helloween, Gamma Ray and Running Wild. Perhaps the most unique of the pack, and arguably a prime mover in the eventual folk metal craze, was chivalry meets Viking-lore powerhouse with an auspiciously clean cut front man known as Falconer.
This little history lesson, while naturally little more than a refresher course for the average metal enthusiast, is a necessary one for any prospective newcomers to the art who may have been roped in by the atypical nature of their format. The synchronicity that is established between the rapid foray of metallic fury with the musical theater/Broadway cleanness and charisma of vocalist Mathias Blad is something that has never really been recreated since their 2001 eponymous debut first began turning heads while also making them bang. Matched by a fairly enigmatic character that has developed around the band given a lack of consistent touring due to Blad’s busy theater schedule, Falconer has continued to be a wild card in the power metal scene, nay the entire metal scene, despite changing their format very little over the past two decades. But for what this approach may now lack in novelty, it also showcases a band undaunted by the changing musical landscape of the day with a highly potent delivery that shows zero signs of wavering.
2020’s “From A Dying Ember,” this outfit’s 9th studio album, is an exercise of not messing with perfection while also keeping it fresh and current. It wants for nothing in terms of energy, ushering a punishingly heavy yet occasionally whimsical musical presentation that is obsessed with high octane speed and majesty, yet also not averse to throwing in a fleeting segment of folksy balladry or borderline comical musical theater references that come all but out of nowhere. It shares the greatest commonality with its immediate predecessor Black Moon Rising, though differs by leaning a bit more heavily on the acoustic elements and idiomatic melodic tunes. Such examples as the medieval tinged knight’s tale of an instrumental work “Garnets and A Gilded Rose” and the somewhat more bass driven, slow grooving, almost Viking metal beast “Bland Sump Och Dy” showcase a band not averse to innovation, while the charming piano ballad “Rejoice The Adorned” could almost be a teaser to an upcoming Broadway production.
All that being considered, the aforementioned songs serve as the exceptions that prove the rule, namely that this is still ultimately a power metal band that delivers the goods in the fastest and most lustrous display of riff driven goodness possible. Frenetic speeders like “Desert Dreams” and “Testify” hit with the same velocity as a classic slab of German madness served up by Blind Guardian, but with a level of darkness when putting aside Mathias’ pristine tenor that rivals Mystic Prophecy and Tad Morose. These standout showings, along with the somewhat more measured opener “Kings and Queens” and the adventurous epic closer “Rapture” also showcase the impressive chops of lead guitarist Jimmy Hedlund, who throws out some exemplary fits of virtuoso shredding after the example of Malmsteen, yet with a bit more of a restrained, melodic swagger. Though the zenith of this album is the borderline melo-death meets Renaissance Faire celebration that is “Fool’s Crusade”, which sees mastermind Stefan Weinerhall channeling some of the good old days of his former band Mithotyn alongside the usual mix of influences.
Falconer is one of those bands where if one album agrees with a person, pretty much the whole discography will, barring maybe the two albums where Blad was absent for those who are exclusively drawn to his atypical vocal approach. As such, this is an album that maintains this band’s consistent greatness for those that have followed them over the past 19 years, while also blazes a modernized, punchy production trail for newcomers that might find their earlier offerings a tad low-fi by comparison. Nothing about this album comes off as overtly contrived, though at times it seems that the jarring shifts from thunderous riff and drum work to frolicking medieval minstrel tunes is a bit on the brazen side and feeds into the impression that some might have of this being a novelty act. It’s kind of an acquired taste, particularly for anyone who likes their vocals as gritty as the music surrounding it, but then again, this band’s mixture of a forbidding metallic battery with a 100% saccharine sweet vocal delivery could well be the perfect foil for the melodic death metal dichotomy that preceded them.
Released by: Metal Blade Records
Released Date: June 26th, 2020
Genre: Power Metal
- Mathias Blad / Vocals
- Stefan Weinerhall / Guitar
- Jimmy Hedlund / Guitar
- Magnus Linhardt / Bass
- Karsten Larsson / Drums
“From A Dying Ember” track-listing:
1. Kings and Queens
2. Desert Dreams
3. Redeem and Repent
4. Bland Sump Och Dy
5. Fool’s Crusade
6. Garnets and a Gilded Rose
7. In Regal Attire
8. Rejoice the Adorned
10. Thrust the Dagger Deep
12. The Cauldron (Digipak Bonus Track)
13. Portals of Light (Acoustic Version – Digipak Bonus Track)
14. Long Gone By (Acoustic Version – Digipak Bonus Track)
“From A Dying Ember” can be pre-ordered at metalblade.com/falconer in the following formats:
- Ltd. digipak CD (incl. 3 bonus tracks – EU exclusive)
- 180g black vinyl (EU exclusive)
- Turquoise green marbled vinyl (EU exclusive – limited to 200 copies)
- Orange white marbled vinyl (EU exclusive – limited to 100 copies)
- Light grey marbled vinyl (US exclusive – limited to 300 copies)
Six years of studio silence is not enough to daunt the revival of millennial power metal distinctive pioneers Falconer, and their most recent excursion into folksy meets Broadway metallic experimentation doesn’t fail to impress at every turn