Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wind Rose - Shadows Over Lothadruin (2012)

There is a pretty good chance that if you begin your musical career in a band covering the likes of Symphony X and Dream Theater, you have quick fingers and a good sense of rhythm. Evolving from those humble roots, Italy's Wind Rose decided that, in 2009, it was time to strike out on their own, with original material. After their debut EP garnered some positive attention a year later, it was time to take things to a new level. Enlisting the help of renowned producer Cristiano Bertocchi, this five piece symphonic power metal outfit is aiming for the stars. On their new album, "Shadows Over Lothadruin," classical inspirations evolve into something larger than life.

A short orchestral opening, titled "Awakening," sets the scene, as if opening the epic film to come. Our narrator speaks over a combinations of immense strings and horns. The tempo builds and boils over, just in time to launch "The Endless Prophecy." Wasting no time with formalities, the band gives you a quick smack in the face, aided by rolling drums and distorted guitars. The ringing of bells is the accent that puts the sound over the top. By the time Francesco Cavalieri flexes his vocal muscle, the budding instrumental already has you hooked. With only one guitar, a departure from the power metal norm, much of the honus lies on the bass to carry the tune, something Alessio Consani does with bravado. The keyboards and synthesizers give an added depth, even when they are taking over the lead. After the short galloping of horses in "The Tournament," you flow without haste into "Siderion." It is here that you get your first taste of the medieval intricacies on display, with fluttering strings blanketing the thunderous double kick drums and the perfectly syncopated vocals. Somewhere between the enchanting tune and the dense chugging, you find yourself lifted above it all. Whether it is the soaring voice of Cavalieri, or the sea of keyboards provided by Federico Meranda, you are bound to focus on one thing at a time, which is dangerous and may require a few trips through to take it all in. The battle of keys and guitars in the outro, however, is not to be missed.

And while "The Grand March" is exactly that, a call to march forward, it is merely a stepping stone into the next track, "Son Of A Thousand Nights." Constructed from a base of piano keys, there is a beauty and richness to the early stages that carries on throughout. While calling this track a ballad wouldn't be frowned upon, it fits better as a movement in a play, ripe with harmony. The bass line stars here, simple though it may be, driving each passing vocal melody.  Even in the stripped down setting, Claudio Falconcini manages to deliver a blistering piece of fret work. A somber end is a beautiful contrast to the aggression beginnings of "The Fourth Vanguard," a track that boasts some of the heaviest moments the album has to offer. A dynamic allegiance between the booming kick drums and the surgically precise guitar chugging forms, creating boulders of sonic weight that come flying in your direction. That cinematic feel that is so often found in power metal has a home here, both in overall sound, as well as the arching vocal patterns. No piece of this puzzle can stand without the others, a quality that keeps your ears open for every detail. Even when Cavalieri is doing a more standard approach, there is a strength in his voice that commands the track. Lightning fast finger work inhabits the latter half, both on keys and strings, leaving you in a sweat, with mouth agape. A howling wind and ominous warning are all you get in "Dark Horizons," before it is time to move on.

When the foundation begins and ends with keyboards and pianos, as it does in "Majesty," you are balancing precariously. But somehow, as this nine minute epic gets a head of steam, everything falls into place. A number of tempo and tone changes keep every section flowing and fresh. There is an odd element to the keyboard that may bring to mind an eighties prog ballad, but those shortcomings are quickly covered by a barrage of drums, courtesy of Dan Visconti. And if you aren't sure, to this point, just how deep Cavalieri's talent goes, you will get your answer. Our narrator returns in "The Havoc," recapping the destruction. But "Oath To Betray" brings the hammer down with authority. This is the kind of track where the instrumental shines, and singer, for better or worse, is just along for the ride. Through the winding guitar riffs and bass heavy rhythm section, the story advances, even with Cavalieri seeming overpowered. The breakdown portion, complete with stop/start guitar and drum dynamics, pounds the nail down for good. When paired with the very operatic storytelling style of "Led By Light," you have a duo of songs that showcase the best the band has to offer.

Starting the home stretch, "Sacred Fount" follows solemn footsteps. In his prayer, he calls out for the "Moontear Sanctuary," which is, not coincidentally, the next track. This is the building ballad you may have been expecting. Beginning with softly played acoustic guitars, it builds slowly to a simmer, with daring vocal harmonies filling most of the track. As the wall of voices fills your ears, a pulsing drum beat enters to keep time. This isn't a throwaway, however, with a catchy hook cutting through the massive choirs. The final interlude, "Vererath," is the beginning of the end of the story. With middle eastern inspired guitars ringing out, it shines the light on the finale, "Close To The End." In its ten minute plus run time, you get a taste of it all. Cavalieri gives a commanding performance, his voice hitting all of the notes, from the soaring to the solemn. But the band, tighter than ever, takes the proverbial cake here. Falconcini and Meranda duel, weaving in and out of one another. Their fingers twist and tie, float and sting, laying down trails of notes that would make you dizzy to follow. This is the coming to fruition of everything once thought to be a dream. The conclusion to an album that, until three years ago, would have been left unmade.

With the tremendous talent of the next generation of progressive power metal bands, it is almost becoming a forgone conclusion that each and every album will be above expectation. And while this is wholly unrealistic, Wind Rose make it look all too easy. The musicianship is exciting, and the way it all gels together is nothing short of astounding. But what sets "Shadows Over Lothadruin" apart from so many of the other albums you will encounter this year is the balance between storytelling and cohesive metal music. Most acts favor one or the other, leaving the other side of the scale tilted and unsettled. But here, both sides get equal thought, leaving you with an album that sounds larger than life, and may actually be.


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