2015 has barely even begun, and I already have a strong album of the year contender, from a very unexpected source. Italian band Wind Rose released their debut Shadows Over Lothadruin in 2012, and it was an interesting release. A conceptual album with fantasy themed lyrics along the lines of bands like Rhapsody of Fire or Ancient Bards, and yet musically the band played a brand of melodic prog, in the same vein as Symphony X, but with increased symphonic and folk influences. On the whole it was quite the unique album and represented a promising start, with potential for much greater things. It was obvious the band had the talent to go places, but the release was brought down slightly by inconsistent songwriting and an overabundance of interlude tracks. For their sophomore effort, Wardens of the West Wind, the band has ditched the conceptual approach, which has resulted in an album that’s all killer with absolutely zero filler.
In many ways this seems like a much different band than the one that released Shadows Over Lothadruin, even though their only new member is ex-Labyrinth bassist Cristiano Bertocchi. The prog leanings are still there in bursts, but on the whole this is largely a symphonic power metal album, with faster, heavier and more immediately gripping songs than their debut. At times the Symphony X influence still shines through, but for the most part this album is much more similar to bands like Rhapsody of Fire and Dragonland. While the musicianship was already strong on their debut, on this release it has improved quite dramatically, with everything sounding fantastic, from the explosive guitars and drums, to the epic keyboards and orchestrations, and even the folk instruments which appear on and off throughout many of the tracks.
The area where Wind Rose has improved the most, though, is in the songwriting department, and it starts with the lack of filler. This time around, there’s a very nice intro, as well as the ecellent folk interlude “The Slave and the Empire”, which serves as a very effective lead in for one massive barn burner of a song in “Spartacus”. Aside from those two brief instrumental tracks, the rest of the album features eight full length songs, and each one delivers instant satisfaction. The opener “Age of Conquest” is one I suspect will possibly be my most played song of 2015, when the year is over. From the opening choral section to the explosive first verse, the song comes storming out of the gate, and then the chorus hits for the first time, in all its glory, followed by a surprisingly heavy riff, and then the song turns into a progressive symphonic power metal epic that rivals the very best of them. One thing this track demonstrates is that even though this album has some unbelievably catchy choruses, the songwriting is quite advanced, as even a seemingly straight-forward song like this one goes through several transformations throughout, and it’s made all the more awesome for it. While this track has proven to be my favorite, the rest of the album certainly isn’t far behind.
Another area of improvement instantly showcased on “Age of Conquest” is the vocals. I liked Francesco Cavalieri on their debut, but on this album he sounds much stronger and more powerful than he did before. He has a gruff voice, but with the ability to put in some extra touch when in needed, somewhat similar to Russell Allen. The vocal melodies in general are simply spectacular, and he performs everything effortlessly, from the more aggressive vocals at the start of “The Breed of Durin”, to the more melodic vocals on tracks like “Heavenly Minds” and “Skull and Crossbones”, to the just plain epic vocals found throughout most of the album. Even more impressive are the choir vocals, which are at times operatic, but many times they sound more like big group chants. The harmonies are all performed flawlessly, and greatly enhance the music, standing out as one of my favorite features on an already amazing album.
As much as I love the opener, “The Breed of Durin” is almost as impressive, and is another song that explodes at the beginning, with an epic speedy opening verse that hooks the listener in instantly, and then takes it to the next level with another unforgettable chorus, and some pretty awesome surprises in the second half. Tracks like “Heavenly Minds”, “Ode to the West Wind” and “Born in the Cradle of Storms” are more progressive, and rely more on the keyboards and orchestrations. For the most part, these tracks are more subdued, but the melodies are simply fantastic, and they each have frequent tempo changes to liven things up. The latter two in particularly get more and more impressive as they go along. Rounding out the songs, we have two more instant winners: “Spartacus” has perhaps the most epic choral vocals on the album as well as some of the best orchestrations, while “Rebel and Free” has the strongest use of folk melodies, complete with Francesco sounding more like a folk singer on that one song, and doing an excellent job of it.
I have to admit: I never saw this one coming. I saw great potential in Wind Rose on their debut, but with Wardens of the West Wind they have upped their game to unexpected levels, all the while delivering an epic symphonic power metal album that quite frankly crushes anything offered up by other bands in the genre last year. I can’t give anything but the highest of recommendations to any fans of symphonic power metal or progressive power metal, as this album is simply fantastic, and I feel confident in saying it will be at least in my top 5 albums at the end of 2015.
(originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2015/01/09/wind-rose-wardens-of-the-west-wind-review/)