STORMWIND — Reflections (review)

STORMWIND — Reflections album cover Album · 2001 · Neoclassical metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
lukretion
When faced with a band releasing four albums in only four years one could understandably fear that the law of diminishing returns may kick in, resulting in lower and lower quality per album. Quite the contrary: with Reflections, Swedish neoclassical power metallers Stormwind have released probably their best album yet, refining to near perfection the tried-and-true formula they had already experimented with on previous releases.

The roots of the band’s sound go back to the days of Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force (1980s period). Baroque but muscular guitar riffs and extended solo duels between guitar and keyboards abound here. The songs alternate between fast-tempo speed metal assaults (“War of Troy”, “Queen of Nine Days”, “Assassin of Honour”) and more majestic mid-tempos (“The Man Behind the Iron Mask”, “Reflections”, “Ramses”). There is also the obligatory semi-acoustic ballad “Golden Tears” that in truth is perhaps one of the best pieces of the album. All songs are neatly constructed around tight conventional structures (verse/bridge/chorus/solo, repeat) and feature strong choruses that are both catchy and epic. In short, Stormwind put on display the full spectrum of musical expression that one would expect to find on the best albums in this genre.

Although originality may not be the strong suit here, Reflections stand out relative to previous Stormwind’s albums for the abundant and slightly unconventional use of choirs throughout its ten compositions. Singer Thomas Vikström showcases the full range of his vocal skills here, alternating between semi-operatic bass/tenor choirs and more traditional hard rock / AOR choral singing. The overall effect is beautiful and greatly enriches the listening experience, injecting a much needed touch of novelty into the album.

The other strength of the album are the strong performances of all musicians involved. Stormwind’s mastermind Thomas Wolf is an excellent guitarist, in the vein of Blackmore and Malmsteen, but is less baroque in his solos, which have instead a more modern, almost thrashy edge. The rest of the lineup is no less impressive. Thomas Vikström (ex-Candlemass, Therion) is a powerhouse who needs little introduction. His vocal range is impressive and he particularly shines when he uses his mid-range, although he does a great job on the high notes too. Drummer Patrick Johansson is equally impressive. His playing is ultrafast, but at the same time extremely nuanced and precise. When I listen to this album I often find myself zooming in on his playing, as it is so rich and multifaceted that it deserves full attention on its own (listen to that drum mayhem on “War of Troy”, for instance). Unfortunately, this is the last album Johansson will record with Stormwind, as shortly after this release he joined Yngwie Malmsteen’s band. I also like Kaspar Dahlqvist’s keyboard arrangements and solos that greatly contribute to the neoclassical sound of the album. Bassist Andreas Olsson is perhaps the least prominent musician here, but not for lack of skills (he will later join highly-technical bands like Narnia and Royal Hunt), but rather because in the mix his instrument is a bit buried underneath the rhythm guitar, which is not unusual for the genre.

The production is otherwise a big improvement relative to the band’s previous album, Resurrection. There is more balance between the instruments, which contributes to the elegant and nuanced feel of the album. The drums sound great, and so do Vikström’s vocals. There is also more separation between keyboards and guitars, and both can be heard well when they play together (this was an issue on the previous record). The only aspect of the production I dislike slightly is the guitar tone, which is a bit too thin and light for my taste, taking away power and depth from the recordings.

Overall, Reflections is a pleasant album of neoclassical power metal that will surely not disappoint the fans of the genre. The tasteful alternation between fast speed metal pieces, majestic mid-tempos and ballads ensures that the listener stays interested throughout the 45 minutes of the record. Most songs are above-average in terms of quality and entertaining value, although perhaps the album lacks one or two “killer” tracks that could truly elevate it to the next level. Nevertheless, songs like “The Man Behind the Iron Mask”, the proggy title-track, “Golden Tears”, and the theatrical “Queen of Nine Days” are extremely well done examples of neoclassical power metal that can compete with the best works in the genre.
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