After a reasonably successful debut in form of Shadows Over Lothadruin, Italian power metal band Wind Rose didn’t waste time and quickly got back in the studio to record the follow-up to their first critically acclaimed work. This seems reasonable, for if you’re enjoying the relatively large success on the scene and get a praise from critics all over the world, you generally don’t want to lose the momentum you gained from your first release; instead, you want to increase it exponentially. However, naturally some doubts will always arise among the impatient yet cynical listeners: does this band have enough talent and captivating ideas for the anticipated follow up? Or maybe they’ve blown up their whole bunch of ideas to make the first album so appealing, only to release a load of unimpressive material after and fade away from the scene ingloriously as another one-time wonder that wasn’t able to keep up with the high standards of the genre? In a way, the second album is just as important as the first, if not even more. Of course, every band’s album is of high significance, but with your first entry you’re making a statement about your intentions, your goals and ambitions, and with your second output you’re either reinforcing them or discarding all your aspiration to be a metal force that should be seriously reckoned with. There’s usually no middle ground. That being said, Wind Rose managed to carry their momentum onward, for their second full-length effort called Wardens of the West Wind features nearly all things the fellow epic power metal fan can ask for.
Before saying anything else it’s worth to note that Wardens of the West Wind is pretty different from the debut. There’s no concept this time, and while the album preserved some melodiousness of Shadows Over Lothadruin, it’s more straightforward and blunt in some moments. While the intricately weaved song structures are still there for the most part, along with the seemingly random verses on the few songs, some tunes have that brusque approach which would be probably welcomed live, yet being a fan of the band’s melodic side, I can’t help but scowl when those parts come up. Apparently, though, the band knew exactly what they wanted to create, for those blunt parts are nicely and delicately outweighed by the soaring or touching sections, composing a diverse and compelling picture painted with rich, powerful, yet at the same time smooth colors. There is also a change in the band’s lineup, a new bass player Cristiano Bertocchi. Otherwise, Wind Rose are still the same people from Shadows Over Lothadruin: Francesco Cavalieri screams and sings his lungs out, Claudio Falconcini picks his sweeping notes on guitar, Dan Visconti smashes the hell out of his drumkit and Federico Meranda provides those ringing, clarifying keyboard sounds. Once again, the mix here is enviable; some famous bands out there could learn the thing or two from these folks.
The record starts with the thing becoming quite popular on the modern metal scene now: a one-two punch of songs with one being an instrumental intro getting the listener into a right mood, while the second one features the band firing on all cylinders. Sure enough, the short Where Dawn and Shadows Begin serves as an appetizer before the main course is served; and just after a minute and a half Age of Conquest breaks in with the guns blazing. This track has the typical outstanding Wind Rose fare, confusing the listener with tricky composed verses stuffed with the reckless, daring clean singing, then reassuring the crowd with the catchy chorus. In my opinion, this song has something similar with Blind Guardian’s way of writing; while on the first listen the verses’ structure doesn’t make a lot of sense, it works wonderfully, and when it finally sinks in, the experience becomes even more rewarding. Calm breaks, wild explosions of energy, this song has everything in a small doses, and even the shouting part from the intro makes its return, inviting the listeners to join the fray.
Now, Heavenly Minds serves as some sort of breather, if you can call it that; in fact, there are no ballads on Wardens of the West Wind at all, so those moderately paced tunes are taking their place. The melodic side is still there, outlined with the pristine keyboards during the choruses and those acoustic breaks. The Breed of Durin, on the other hand, has none of this leveled pace, venturing into pagan or viking metal and maybe even some thrash in the beginning, returning to the familiar land after that. This blend of styles isn’t what you would expect to find on Wind Rose album, but this ruthless, nearly all out approach is refreshing, because the full album of usual power metal tunes would be stagnant and unexciting. This song does an impeccable job of grabbing the listener’s attention right back, and it also paves the way for Ode to the West Wind, a song one might consider to be the album’s title track. After the quick and rock-ish intro, the song breaks down to the small yet dramatic spoken part, and then it’s allowed to blossom in all its glory. This is the anthem of the album, the very centerpiece of it; while it doesn’t have some overly technical parts or impossible vocal lines, it has the tight, precise songwriting with the keyboards audibly supporting the whole structure along the way, and the injection of clean guitar solos here and there holds the piece together . Ode to the West Wind basically represents the band and their creative work in a nutshell, and needless to say, the image it creates is quite attractive. But while the album must have its highs, it is also bound to have some lows, and Skull and Crossbones for me is mostly the low. While it’s indeed a meticulously created song, it doesn’t do a lot for me with its relentless, pounding nature and the warlike feel created by the orchestrations beyond. I guess it would be a wonderful tune to play live though, considering the number of opportunities it gives the audience to sing along. The song gets its slight redemption in the second half, after all the shouting and screaming is done, when the crushing approach is replaced by more gentle and encouraging atmosphere.
The Slave and the Empire and Spartacus form another one-two punch of songs, the former being a quick intro to the second tune, which unfolds the short story before us. While being mostly straightforward, inexorable metal track, Spartacus allows some nearly invisible tendrils and sprouts of folk to grow in it, which certainly adds a distinctive flavour to the song. Now, the penultimate track, Born in the Cradle of Storms was the first one I’ve heard from this album, for the band was playing it live on some festivals; and it was that song that convinced me this would be a worthy purchase indeed. Being the highlight of the record along with Ode to the West Wind, this track has the mix of this businesslike sounding during the instrumental parts with the truly epic exterior whenever the vocals bless the song with their presence. Everything is just so neat there; and if I had to choose the single, it would’ve been this one, not Rebel and Free, the album’s closer. Obviously I’m biased towards the band’s melodic side, and the song with the regular shouts about the death wished to some tyrant can’t be that melodic (that would’ve been kind of stupid, actually); I just happen to think the single from the bands that aren’t that famous worldwide perhaps shouldn’t be the most accessible song from the album, but instead the most representative of the band’s sound.
However, my opinions about the singles choosing politics notwithstanding, Wind Rose definitely delivered a fine package of explicit power metal to their fans over the world with Wardens of the West Wind. While their previous work might be more appealing to people who value the soft side in power metal more, the fact that the band matured seemingly a lot, and also managed to put out more complex and multifarious record in just two years after their previous effort, well, I can just admire their dedication and talent. I still prefer Shadows Over Lothadruin myself, but I can’t deny this record is impressive.