posted on 7/2011 By:
On the whole, Falconer halves me. The idea behind their folk-laden power metal is quite literally a grand one, and yet, in practice, it’s been one I’ve found more clinically interesting than emotionally resonant. Somewhere in the mix between the aggressive and melodic riffage, the prancing Ren-Faire twists and Mathias Blad’s super-clear operatic baritone, Falconer always felt too clean, at times downright silly (more so than usual in power metal). And thus, they left me wanting more. With a markedly increased aggression and a greater emphasis on quality folksmanship, Armod still hasn’t converted me to a flag-waving Falconer fan, but I do concede that it’s a stride in the right direction for these Swedes.
Armod’s listening experience is characterized by those two immediately noticeable factors above: one, Falconer in 2011 feels more vital, more energetic than on previous efforts, a trait they've achieved by simply turning up the power in their metal. That’s not to say that they’ve become more “power metal,” mind you, but rather to say that their metal has become more powerful. In places, these tunes are the most aggressive on any of the Falconer efforts I’ve heard. (I’m missing the earliest two records, I admit.) Moments of blast-beating even pop up in “Griftefrid,” while throughout Armod, the riffage is thicker, stouter, heavier…
And that’s all well and good, but in true Falconer fashion, it’s only half-important, because of the second of Armod’s immediately noticeable characteristics: Falconer’s metal is stronger, but metal is not all that’s on hand. In the same way that they’ve increased the power to make Armod their most aggressive record (at least, of late), Falconer has balanced their formula by making it their most folky, as well. Violins dance with guitars, twisting jig-dancing melodies atop power-chord basics; acoustic passages float in and out; Blad’s smooth croon intones the songs, for the first time written entirely in Swedish. (Falconer has flirted with Swedish-language lyrics before, but Armod marks their first album-length attempt at such.) That lyrical shift is a simple change, admittedly, but it’s a notable one: The native tongue gives Blad’s vocals and these tunes a more unique quality, something a bit more exotic, decidedly Scandinavian atop the music's Tull-indebted frilly-shirted “theater with power metal riffs” approach.
And again, that’s all (done) well and (for the most part) good. But there’s a third factor at play, and that is simply that, as as improved upon its predecessors as it may be, Armod still doesn’t resonate: it starts strong and wears quickly. The first time I heard this record, I quite enjoyed it, even praised it slightly and briefly, between the immediate flashes of a stouter backing and an undeniably increased medieval flair. But then, I drifted off before the record ended, and as a few listens wore on, the same chinks in Falconer’s chainmail became evident: Even prior to this, Blad’s vocals were always the biggest sticking point with me – they lack grit, lack punch, make the whole affair more drama club than mosh pit – and his work on Armod hasn’t changed enough to transcend that. Granted, the underpinnings of increased aggression help balance his unchanging Glee Club goofiness in the short term, but nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that Falconer’s fire would be stoked by having a singer (be it Blad or anyone) who wasn’t pulling a metal Josh Groban. And the folk elements are great, but they’re neither original nor expert: they’re good enough, the same approximation to medieval music as the lamb hock you bought at the stand at the park during King Arthur Days.
And, hell, honestly, even the LARP-folk tendencies and the crooning are both well done and good, but the biggest stumble is this: overall, while parts of Armod spark undeniably, none of this is fiery, none of it absolutely brilliant, and certainly, it’s not enough to transcend the fact that in the last seven or eight years (and perhaps before, but I can’t say for sure) Falconer has released a string of albums that are all varying degrees of “okay,” never great, never truly engaging, never must-hear.
So yes, I’m again torn in two: it’s good, but I don’t like it. It’s improved, but yet it’s not. Nevertheless, the Falconer faithful will be thrilled, because Armod is better than the last, it’s basics expanded upon, and yet, when it all comes down, to the rest of us, it’s still very much more of the same…
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