Since I first got into power metal, Falconer has been a major player in my tastes, and remains one of my very favorite artists. Heck, I remember mopping floors to such epic backgrounds as “Upon The Grave Of Guilt” and “Mindtraveller”. I've now been following them diligently since the release of “Northwind”, and have been consistently pleased with their efforts since. After hearing about the direction that “Armod” would be taking, I pondered for the longest time about just what this new work would sound like, and I'd heard a number of rumors, including being entirely in Swedish, being less of a “metal” album, and relying far more on folk instrumentation. Well, it turns out that the first of these, other than the bonus tracks, is entirely accurate. However, while the vocals are 100% Swedish, this is definitely still a metal album, but it is definitely not your average Falconer album. While Falconer has long specialized in their special crafting of a bridge spanning power and folk metal, on “Armod” this bridge descends decidedly further within the borders of folk territory, tending more often to leave power metal behind. Much of the time, it almost feels like Mathias Blad is singing with a different backing band, but little reminders pop up now and again that this is indeed the same group of 12-year metal veterans.
So what's changed, and what separates “Armod” from thundering releases like “Chapters From A Vale Forlorn” and “Among Beggars And Thieves?” Well, it's still hard, that's for sure, but in general the compositions here are a bit less melodic in the traditionally western-accepted sense of the word. The guitar lines have more of a primal savagery to them in places, rather than the rough-edged, rustic charisma that listeners have come to know. The opening riff of “Svarta Änkan” (“Black Widow”) exemplifies the change in tonality and guitar riffing, as does the brutal instrumental introduction to “Griftefrid” (Blastbeats in Falconer? Now I've heard it all!). There are some songs where the classic vibe of the band is present (“Rosornas Grav”- “By The Rose's Grave”), but even here the influence of different elements, be they female backing vocals, alternate instrumentation, or a more melancholy tone, is evident.
For some, I would say that Falconer, on this album especially, can be compared to the mighty Týr (most especially in the case of the latter's most recent release). The bands have decidedly different sounds, but the similarity in meshing styles is clear. To Falconer's credit, they have a much more refined feel going, and Mathias Blad is, as always, a vocalist of the highest caliber. Few can equal his grace, and his smooth baritone has frequently been mentioned in the same breath with greats like Roy Khan in terms of pure talent. With “Armod” being sung in Swedish, Blad's vocals sound a bit more harsh and cold to native English-speaking ears, but the experience is very much the same.
In some ways, “Armod” is as distinctive as Falconer's previous work, and fans of the band will be able to recognize it immediately in ways other than Blad's voice. However, the template is so different that it will most undoubtedly split opinions- power metal fans will probably care for it less, while it will attract more attention from those predisposed to folk and extreme metal. Remember while you listen that the band was very open about what they wanted to do with “Armod” from the beginning, and that it was a very personal album that the band self-admittedly realized wouldn't appeal to their regular audience. So I accept this with good grace, and despite its differences it is no mediocre metal album, but still a competent and well-executed recording with a great deal of polish. I anticipate this will continue to grow on me.
- - -
The Protagonist's Rating: 3.5 out of 5