TWILIGHT FORCE – At The Heart Of Wintervale (Album Review)

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Into a world of magic, we fly.

Ever since metal music’s conception amid a sea of heavy rocking and mystical pursuits courtesy of the late 60s psychedelic craze, the fantastical has shared a strong connection with the genre in question. Likewise, following the rise of the European subset of power metal pioneered by the likes of Helloween and later taking said continent by storm during the dawn of the current millennium, it’s been stipulated that at some point a fold of artists would take this peculiar blend of infectious hooks, virtuosic showmanship and theatricality to its logical conclusion. Naturally there have been many claimants to this unique disposition since the late 1990s, and while the jury is still out, there is a strong case to be made that a particular group that came raging out of Sweden in the 2010s in Twilight Force has taken the crown. Now four albums deep into a career spanning a little over a decade, their latest LP dubbed “At The Heart Of Wintervale” lends heavy credence to their kingship of all things campy.

For those whom have braved the battlefield with this symphonic mainstay for any duration between their over-the-top 2014 debut “Tales Of Ancient Prophecies” and their subsequent tenure with Nuclear Blast Records, the formula at play has changed little, but has nonetheless grown to colossal proportions. The bombastic marriage of Rhapsody Of Fire’s pioneering blend of technical neo-classicism and operatic splendor with the ultra-light and consonant camp factor that was distilled from that formula via stylistic disciples in France’s Fairyland and Poland’s own Pathfinder is left mostly unchanged, save some peripheral tweaks to further accentuate the band’s impact-based metallic edge that borderlines of extreme metal influences and a more ambitious songwriting approach. The virtuosic chops of band co-founders and lead guitarist Johan Lindh (aka Lind) and keyboardist Daniel “Blackwald” Beckman continue to rivet at every turn, while the flashy drum kit work of newer member Isak Olsson and the soaring, Michael Kiske-like majesty of Trick Or Treat vocalist Alessandro Conti steal much of the show.

The resulting eight chaptered novella of sonic sweetness and D&D imagery proves a boon for any metal head looking to throw on a freshly polished suit of chain-mail armor and clear a former dwarf mine of a nasty goblin infestation. Compact bangers such as the albums opener and the band’s own eponymous anthem “Twilight Force” and its equally flashy cousin “Sunlight Knight” present the band at their most accessible and methodical, blaring out a high octane mixture of Helloween-influenced speed metal mayhem, Malmsteen-informed instrumental wizardry and dense orchestral overlays that few could ever hope to rival. The latter song, along with the slightly more drawn out and technically-charged “Skyknights Of Aldaria” also manage to sneak in a few interesting curve-balls in the form of some fleeting extreme metal moments and a comical steel drum interlude, bringing what can be best described as a Disney-like element to something more readily aligned with the works of Anne McCaffrey and Piers Anthony.

“At the Heart of the Wintervale” Album Artwork

But that which ultimately sets this album apart from its three predecessors is not the occasional left-turns into unexplored stylistic territory, but rather the sheer scope of the songwriting that brings this band dangerously close to matching artistic wits with their primary influence, namely Rhapsody Of Fire. Two massive 10 minute epic numbers in “Highlands Of The Elder Dragon” and album closer “The Last Crystal Bearer” showcase a highly expansive array of symphonic devices that could easily adorn a fantasy film score, as well as a vivid presentation of guest vocalists, narrations and conceptual storytelling that approach game-changer territory for a band often likened to the comical B-cinema antics of Gloryhammer. Combined with the borderline inhuman vocal gymnastics displayed by Conti at every turn, and the heavy level of nuance and multifaceted interplay at work between the entire instrumental arrangement; a minimum of four to five listens is required to fully grasp everything that’s going on within these two towering compositions that comprise nearly half of the album’s principle duration.

While this particular subset of power metal may not be for everyone, those that don’t mind their melodic feasts saturated in pure auditory saccharine will find a new classic here that will give the Dragonlands and the Majesticas of the world a run for their money. If there is any Persian Flaw to be found in this otherwise flawless work of Northern European craftsmanship with a Southern European captain at the helm, it’s that there are no compromises when it comes to this album’s adherence to joyous sing-along romps. The ratio of light to darkness in what is stipulated to be the classical struggle between good and evil in musical storybook form tilts so heavy to the former that the latter proves an afterthought, though it does retain that needed metal edge beneath the layers of keyboards and soaring choirs. Think of it as the whimsical musical musings of Mozart standing in contrast to a scene more readily obsessed with Bach and Beethoven, and for those of us that ride dragons into the oncoming storm, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Order “At The Heart Of Wintervale” HERE.

Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: January 20th, 2022
Genre: Power Metal

“At the Heart of Wintervale” track-listing:

1. Twilight Force
2. At the Heart of Wintervale
3. Dragonborn
4. Highlands of the Elder Dragon
5. Skyknights of Aldaria
6. A Familiar Memory
7. Sunlight Knight
8. The Last Crystal Bearer
9. The Sapphire Dragon of Arcane Might is Back Again *
10. Skyknights of Aldaria (orchestral version) *
11. The Last Crystal Bearer (orchestral version) *

* Available only in the Limited Digibook Edition.

Musicians:

  • Alessandro Conti (Allyon) / Vocals
  • Philip Lindh (Lynd) / Lead guitar, acoustic guitar, lute
  • Jocke Leandro Johansson (Aerendir) / Rhythm guitar
  • Dunder Björn Lundqvist (Born) / Bass
  • Daniel Beckman (Blackwald) / keyboards, piano, violin, cembalo
  • Isak Olsson (De’Azsh) /  Drums

9.4 Excellent

Dragons, magic crystals, lofty landscapes, technical high-jinks and symphonic bombast are the order of the day as Sweden’s hottest purveyors of pure power metal camp Twilight Force unveil their fourth and latest studio installment

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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