Sometimes I find myself wondering, how many hours of decent music do I miss every year? How many well-written, captivating works from talented artists have successfully avoided my attention? There is no definite answer, yet I have a suspicion the most accurate one would be “hundreds”. With all the new bands emerging into the metal scene it’s incredibly difficult to keep the track of all events around, and, unfortunately, some releases are being left unnoticed. Being a reviewer for Lady Obscure is a considerable help on this front, and every now and then I’m left amazed, in disbelief about the quality of some particular album I’ve never heard about before.
And this is exactly the case with an Italian band called Wind Rose. While the band was formed back in 2009, their first full-length effort, Shadows Over Lothadruin, didn’t come out until 2012, which makes it almost two years since the release now. It’s a complex concept progressive power metal work with intricate, perplexing melodies, brief atmospheric interludes which provide the narration of a tale, and grandiloquent, bombastic parts, yet on the other hand it casts a distinctive relaxed, leisurely feeling and infuses some kind of assuring calmness. I must say, the pace on this record is impeccable. This album doesn’t hurry anywhere, it tells its own story, in its own time. The storytellers responsible for this are Francesco Cavalieri, who does the vocals, Claudio Falconcini on guitars, Federico Meranda and Dan Visconti on keyboards and drums respectively. Alessio Consani played bass guitar on this record, though after his decision to leave the band in 2013 he was replaced by Cristiano Bertocchi. The bass, as are all the instruments there could be heard perfectly clear, which is an evidence of great production all around.
The story for this album is original, written by musicians themselves. It is heavily inspired by Tolkien’s novels and takes a place in a medieval kingdom, which is, to be fair, a bit obvious considering the album’s name. The first track, Awakening, serves as an interlude to a tale, conveying magical vibes with warlike rhythms and drum-patterns and getting more and more intense, until the crushing guitar riff from The Endless Prophecy rips the scene apart in a mere fifteen seconds. The songwriting on this one is wondrous; the track feels more on serene and tranquil side, but the heavy riffs and crazy drum-fills are all over the place, spiced with orchestral sections and acoustic parts flowing flawlessly. The most curious thing is almost the whole album is like that, and I still can’t pinpoint how exactly this was achieved.
The real story, in fact, starts with a royal jousting tournament hosted every year, winner of which would become a commander of king’s army. This, by the way, is an exceptionally dumb decision, for “good jouster” doesn’t equal “a man with good strategical and tactical skills” at all, but, well, that’s your medieval ways. Anyway, the tournament is on and the violins on Siderion help to conjure the mood of it quite right: pompous, noble, sublime. A main protagonist, Meador, loses his final joust to his obviously-evil opponent, treacherous Garodin, so the latter takes command of main army of the realm and the former becomes the head of only a vanguard. Before riding out with his new brothers in arms, Meador takes his time and writes to his beloved Haileen. This event is reflected in Son of a Thousand Night, a touching, heart-warming ballad refined with a soulful guitar solo; what could be better? Yet for a true fan of an aggressive, raging side of metal the answer is easily The Fourth Vanguard. Compared with the rest of material, this is six minutes of pure heaviness and the significance of such a track is almost impossible to overestimate. With it, not only do the guys shake listeners up, but they also prove they’re not afraid to try to make different styles working together on a record.
The story takes a drastic turn as the realm falls to the evil forces assisted by Garodin in Majesty. Adventurous, jumping from the calm parts onto the epic ones and back again, with a long intro and distinctive bass moments, Majesty might just be my favourite song here. The prolonged instrumental section in the second half is a definite highlight, being powerful, soaring, thrilling and perfectly placed. This song is just spectacular. The same can’t be said about grim Oath to Betray, full of vengeful thoughts. Despite the usual, impressive musical arrangement, vocal melodies hardly fit the song and the story. As it seems to me, if the protagonist who lost his family, lands and all he had in life swears to take his revenge, he should sound either furious or determined or filled with grief, and I hear none of it in the song’s punch line about rising from the ashes. So while concept albums have their advantages, there’s always a possibility for such a problem to occur. Nothing to be afraid of though, for Led by Light brings the album back to the level set earlier. The keyboards along with operatic vocals make this piece an inspiring one, and with a little help of imagination listener can picture a small yet bright beam of light representing hope on the blackest skies.
The hope is alive and the world isn’t drowned in darkness as long as Meador, the protagonist, fares well. He visits Moontear Sanctuary, which helps him clear his mind and develop a plan of actions. Now, Wind Rose apparently has a knack for ballads, because Son of a Thousand Night was decent, and this song really knocks it out of the park. It’s not a breather before the conclusion to a story, it’s not filler by any means; this song keeps you engaged in the plot, and you can almost live through this worrisome sleepless night in a sanctuary with Meador. My only minor complaint is the appearance of song title at the last seconds, as it blurs the ending a bit.
When the first note of Close to the End bursts into your headphones, you know it’s going to be a hell of a ride. It screams epic, and while the whole piece is epic indeed, it is also mature, solemn and has remarkably unhurried pace, all the trademark features of this record. Describing this in details is pointless; you should just experience it yourself. As a standalone piece, the song could feel lackluster, but in a scale of the story, it’s as brilliant as it gets. And also this is the happy ending, the evil enemy soldiers perished and the good prevailed. Perhaps now the kingdom will abandon this tournament tradition.
This first full-length Wind Rose work could be quite a difficult thing to digest from the first spin. To thoroughly enjoy it, I recommend giving it time it deserves, using good headphones, not getting distracted from the listening and concentrating on the music. A clear, pristine production magnifies the impression of this well thought out album. There’s a certain amount of patience needed to absorb all the glory and power of Shadows Over Lothadruin, but once it sinks in, the reward is immense.
Even better, the band announced they’ve already written the material for the second full-length album, and they’ll enter the studio in May to record it.