posted on 5/2010 By:
To say the release of Wuthering Heights' fifth record has been highly anticipated amongst their fans would be like stating Hasselhoff "sorta likes to drink his dinner" (and his breakfast...and second breakfast, elevenses, lunch and supper): a prodigious understatement, to say the least. The band's previous record, 2006's The Shadow Cabinet, was a masterpiece of knotty progressive power metal with a seemingly unending display of varying textures, moods and plots. Yet despite this bold statement, some diehards still prefer 2004's Far From the Maddening Crowd, so let that be your barometer for the collective excitement level here. But as is often the case with greatly anticipated works that become ostensibly delayed-delayed!!-DELAYED, eagerness has slowly shifted closer toward apprehension due to the scant amount of updates over the long 4-year wait. Alas, the arcane veil has finally been lifted for power metal probing eyes, and the result: well, let's just say the results are definitely good, but mildly vexing in the same sense, considering how long this bird's been cooking in the oven.
Now, before I get hauled off and shillelagh'd by Wuthering devotees, let me reiterate the part where I just said, "the results are definitely good." Many of the things we love hearing on Wuthering Heights records are still prominent here: tight, superbly crafted (and played) power metal that zig-zags between dark and light, harsh and sing-songy, epic and mellow; bright, shimmery leads that blister on one end of the spectrum and lift to the stratosphere on the other (on every single tune!); and of course, the incredibly earnest, unmistakable vocal delivery from one of the genre's finest warblers, Nils Patrik Johansson (Astral Doors, Lion's Share). All these elements are at the ready and firing throughout Salt. But contrary to the preceding two records, this work takes more than just a few spins before snaring you in its net. And unfortunately, you're gonna have to come to grips with the fact that this particular record chucks a few of the other selling points we've grown accustomed to from this stellar Danish band.
One discernible hiccup on Salt is the lack of guest musicians aboard the sloop; something that would be tolerable if the album didn't call for varied instrumentation. I'm not sure if Erik Ravn decided on a more rudimentary route for this particular excursion, or if capable hands simply weren't available (hard to believe, considering the 4-year window), but there are times on Salt, particularly towards the stern of the record, where measures sound as if reliance is put on a keyboard switch to bring flourishes of violin or flute to the speakers -- heresy, considering how Ravn ensured such embellishments were provided by authentic performers in the past. "Tears" commits to a flimsy electronic violin half-way through, and "Weather the Storm" and the wholly unsatisfying sea-ditty "Water of Life" plop fledgling (yet oddly LOUD) artificial flute in their midst. (At least it sounds artificial. Either that or someone owed an eager niece or nephew a huge favor.) Thank Poseidon's Beard they still had Tommy Hansen available for accordion, or the sea shanty end of Salt would have been two additional shades less "drinkable."
And speaking of Tommy Hansen, I'm also at a loss as to why the band didn't turn to him for yet another round of mixing and mastering. The new crew doesn't do a bad job, but they definitely lose some of the fine tweaks and shading that pushed previous works over the edge. Some of the garnish ends up getting smothered here, and gone are the subtle nuances such as the cheerful "Mikkey Dee" cymbal-play that helped vault The Shadow Cabinet to outright Kingliness for yours truly.
Despite my various quibbles, I'd still call Salt one of 2010's more ambitious and infectious power metal records. Gratification comes from the gate particularly strong with the cleverly penned, contagiously bouncy "The Desperate Poet" and the album's strongest melding of classic Wuthering Heights with nautical themes, "The Mad Sailor." And despite the more straight-forward approach to the midpoint of the album, the band's inclination for balls-out epic wailing is more than enough to carry interest all the way to the epic, 16+-minute closer "Lost at Sea." In the end, it's worth emphasizing that we finally have a new Wuthering Heights record to sink our teeth into. And even if it's not quite as extravagant or grandiose as the previous two, it's still an interesting, rewarding and wholly satisfying journey that whips most of the other contenders in the competition.
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The Shadow Cabinet (2 Discs)
1/17/2007 Wuthering Heights
To Travel For Evermore