STORMWIND — Heaven Can Wait (review)

STORMWIND — Heaven Can Wait album cover Album · 1999 · Neoclassical metal Buy this album from MMA partners
2/5 ·
After two LPs recorded with different guest musicians, Swedish guitarist Thomas Wolf decided to gather a proper, stable line-up for his neoclassical metal project Stormwind. Joining Wolf on th band’s third full-length, Heaven Can Wait, are singer Thomas Vikström (ex-Candlemass), keyboard player Kaspar Dahlqvist (Treasure Land) and drummer Patrick Johansson (who will shortly afterwards join Yngwie Malmsteen’s band). All three newcomers are first-class musicians, who definitely elevate Wolf’s project to a whole new level compared to the previous instalments of the band. This allowed Wolf to write songs that are more aggressive and technical than the ones he had written for his previous two records, straying away from the melodic neoclassical hard rock sound of those albums and towards a neoclassical power metal style similar to that pursued by Malmsteen around the same time.

With such strong premises, the expectations for Heaven Can Wait are understandably high. Unfortunately, the album falls short in multiple ways. There are two main shortcomings. First, I have the impression that on this record Wolf had not yet found the right songwriting formula to fully exploit the talents of his new line-up. By penning fast, aggressive pieces he may have tried to play to the strengths of Johansson’s ultra-technical drumming, Vikström’s powerful voice, and Dahlqvist’s fluid soloing abilities (in addition to Wolf’s own technical prowess). But, in doing so, he forgot one essential ingredient of neoclassical metal music: strong melodies. There are very few songs, or parts of songs, that are memorable and catchy here. Most of the album flows away anonymously amidst keyboard/guitar solo duels, tons of baroque-sounding riffs and leads, and a lot of other musical tricks that tick all the right boxes of the neoclassical metal style (alternation between mid-tempo pieces and faster songs; tempo halving/doubling between verse and chorus; relentless double-bass drumming), while failing to leave any lasting impression. I also think that Wolf did not yet know how to write for Vikström’s voice. The singer has an expressive tenor voice, with a good range and lots of character. Many of the parts for his voice here force him to use his upper register in a way that comes across as strained, inevitably sacrificing expressivity and character.

But what really kills this album, in my opinion, is the abysmal production. Stormwind have a history of badly produced albums (hint to all guitar heroes out there: it is OK to leave the control knobs to external producers, once in a while, if you are not up to scratch), but I think Heaven Can Wait beats them all hands down. The sound quality of this album is truly demo-like. The instruments do not blend with each other at all, either because they sound very separated in the mix or because they are piled senselessly on top of one another. The voice is way too upfront in the mix, in a way that highlights all the little imperfections in Vikström’s singing. The drums are also too loud and often drown out a lot of the other instruments. Sometimes this is actually a blessing, because Wolf’s rhythm guitar sound is terrible: muddy and raw, this is definitely not what is needed to do justice to his polished, ornate riffing. This reckless production job makes listening to this album a rather painful experience.

Overall, Heaven Can Wait is a disappointing affair. Stormwind’s previous LP Stargate was impressive, not least thanks to the use of a highly skilled female vocalist as lead singer, which is rather unusual for this style of metal. On Heaven Can Wait, Thomas Wolf put together a whole new line-up consisting of top Swedish musicians and went for a more traditional take on the neoclassical genre. The move did not pay off here: Stormwind lost something in terms of originality while at the same time did not realize huge gains in terms of improved performance or songwriting. On the contrary, the songs Wolf wrote for Heaven Can Wait are not nearly as impressive as the first 5/6 tracks that had appeared on Stargate. Add the fact that the new album sounds terrible, and it is hard to recommend Heaven Can Wait to anyone beyond the strictest circle of Stormwind’s hardcore fans and collectors.
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