Do you perhaps know this feeling when you start listening to some album and think along the lines “well, nothing new or groundbreaking here”? And then after only a few minutes in your thoughts are all like “damn, but it’s so good!” This description is basically a new Bloodbound album in a nutshell. Written mostly in such genres as heavy and power metal, Stormborn offers a wild and harsh ride to the listener and fulfills nearly every expectation one can have for this kind of music. The band mixed those bombastic, anthemic melodies in choruses with pounding, impetuous verses, flavoured the result with a few unusual touches like a children choir, wrote fantasy oriented lyrics heavily based on A Song of Ice and Fire; and as the result we have an immense product of an impressive quality.
Bloodbound is definitely not a newcomer to a metal scene; this Swedish band was founded more ten years ago in 2004 by Tomas Olsson, one of the guitar players on Stormborn, and Fredrik Bergh, a keyboard player also present on the album. The band released five studio albums since then, Stormborn being the sixth, constantly toured with such musical collectives as HammerFall or Evergrey, and was quite successful overall despite numerous inevitable lineup changes. Current band’s singer, Patrik Johansson, joined Bloodbound in 2010 and lent his voice for three albums already, including this one. The second guitar player on Stormborn is Henrik Olsson, while bass and drums are recorded by Anders Broman and Pelle Akerlind respectively.
Stormborn features ten full-fledged songs, each one more epic than the other, and in fact there is not a single bad one here; the album is thoroughly consistent. The small atmospheric piece called Bloodtale opens the record with a kind of pretentious spoken passage supported by some drum patterns and arranged orchestrations, followed by a fiery guitar riff that marks the beginning of Satanic Panic. The riff gives place to a furious rhythm with cymbals all over it, indicating a relentless, aggressive nature of this track, and as if there was any doubt of it, the high-pitched, screaming vocals enter to prove the point. The pounding heaviness climaxes in the pre-chorus and forms a contrast with melodic, less reckless chorus; then with a shrill scream the speed is picked up again. The energy is dropped significantly in the middle part though, when keyboards make a pronounced appearance sounding like a pipe organ; the momentum begins building up from here again, first there are only keys, on the second passage the drums enter and on the third guitars kick in. What’s remarkable is all this tightly packed into four and a half minutes, so here’s an example of masterful songwriting right here.
The unstoppable gush of epicness continues with Iron Throne, a bit more straightforward tune. The similarity of these first two songs is evident both in structure and in melodies; the most obvious example is a stomping, headbanging-friendly pre-chorus. There is no calm section however, and after guitar solo another chorus just takes place and the song is quickly over. The next track is called Nightmares From The Grave and is undoubtedly the most peculiar tune you can encounter on Stormborn. Well, first and foremost, aforementioned children choir makes its appearance there and I can’t help but smirk when they innocently sing this title line. Second, the whole chorus’ melody has a certain folk vibe around it with the clean, ringing keyboard sounds in the background. This whole juxtaposition just turns out to be so unexpected, because neither the intro nor the verses give any hint about what’s to come; they seem to be taken of some other ordinary power metal song. And the most fascinating thing is it actually works.
As I’ve said before, the lyrics have been definitely influenced by A Song of Ice and Fire written by George R.R. Martin and it is most evident on the record’s title track, Stormborn, referring to a character called Daenerys Targaryen, as one of her aliases is indeed Stormborn; and others, like “breaker of chains” or “mother of dragons” are mentioned in the song too. Being the longest track on the album, Stormborn showcases the band’s ability to create excellent anthemic pieces of music. Flowing at a precisely measured pace, this song sounds like some kind of hymn is support for a king, or, in this particular case, a queen. I can easily see how the warriors are marching to some medieval fantasy war with this song. Another great thing here is how Patrik Johansson shows the soulful side of his voice on the verses; I’m once again astounded how versatile this man is.
Following the title track there is We Raise The Dead, short (in comparison with Stormborn) and sweet and fast-paced song, something that was exactly needed after such amount of grandeur presented. I bet this track will be a real crowd pleaser live, because of ridiculously driving chorus that everyone should sing along. A fair warning here: don’t listen to this track at work, and if you do, try not to sing along, or your colleagues might think you’re weird or something. In fact, if I was asked to name one thing this album exceeds at, I would name those catchy vocal melodies without a second thought. Most of the choruses get stuck in your heard after only one listen, and that’s a mighty good sign for this kind of metal. Anyway, next on the list we’ve got another strong candidate for a live set called Made Of Steel. This tune has this blend of hard rock and heavy metal attitude which totally appeals to me. While it doesn’t have any incredibly difficult technical sections, it does the job plain and simple. Made of Steel reminds me of some old school metal, so it’s fairly easy to appreciate it.
The next track, Blood Of My Blood, opens with the riff which reminds me of Your Time Has Come, a song from latest Unisonic album. Unlike the previous tune, this one has the distinctive power metal roots in it, and has quite the demanding melodies for a vocalist; especially these crazy verses with the scream right in the middle of it. The band again uses the pattern of rapid sections alternating with leveled, melodic parts; a lot of power metal bands do it like slowing on the verses and going all double bass in your face on the chorus, but Bloodbound rolls precisely the other way around, and honestly, it’s refreshing. When The Kindgom Will Fall comes next and is another hymn-like tune in the vein of title track, with a whole lot of tension building up and getting released along with the title line. The pompous keyboards help to add to the grandiloquent atmosphere here.
Now, Seven Hells begins with another familiar riff I’m trying to place right now with little success yet, but I guess it’s not even that important. This is another power metal tune to the bone and this time the speedy pace remains unchanged for the whole four minutes. And that’s refreshing too; after this load of loftiness such a breather, if you can call such song that, is only welcome. It’s amusing how When All Lights Fail, the album’s closer, almost follows the same pattern too. While overall it’s more smooth and melodic, it feels like another power metal song. And that’s not a complaint in any way, just hearing all this epic content I expected the last song would be something beyond epic, but apparently the band decided this amount of bombastic material would be enough and didn’t want to overblow the whole work more.
With Stormborn, the band seemingly managed to acquire that precious balance between heavy, powerful and melodic sides of metal; by placing the songs in such order that these sides would constantly substitute each other Bloodbound made the record accessible and easy to sit through. When I was thinking “alright, that’s enough energy, I want something epic or unexpected” or vice versa, the album seemed to somehow sense it and give out the right song. In my opinion, one of the main flaws of most albums in the genre is that while two or three similar songs are fine as long as they’re decent, the whole album of the same material is way too much. Bloodbound solved this problem radically, mingling a few genres effortlessly and thus avoiding being stale or boring; producing a captivating record instead. Driving riffs and splendid vocal melodies considerably add up in album’s strength, therefore resulting in nearly forty-five minutes of more than enjoyable music. And what’s not to enjoy? If you’re looking for something epic and powerful in a modern metal, look no further and try this album. Everyone’s tastes are obviously different, so I can only speak for myself here, but I’m sure I’ll be coming back to listen to Stormborn again for quite a few times.