There are few power metal bands with a signature sound quite like Falconer. The unholy spiritual union of black metal, European speed metal and folk melodies all rolled tightly around the honeyed tones of Mathias Blad. Ok there are plenty of people out there in metal land who would find vocals like this like claws scraping down a blackboard. But, for others, there’s no comparison, certainly not in the world of metal. For all those more inclined towards a bit of power metal fantasy and story-telling, Falconer offers Blad’s amazing baritone wrapped in agile riffs and soaring glassy-eyed melodies that can only, if rather predictably, be likened to the elegant flight of the hawk. Turn to Falconer to unlock the gateway into a world of silent, body-strewn battlefields, wandering bards, magic and inescapable poverty.
Falconer’s 2002 landmark release Chapters from a Vale Forlorn was like a shot in the arm for me after 15 years of listening to the power metal scene churn out Helloween/Maiden clones with diminishing returns. A new idea at last – and Stefan Weinerhall’s precision folk riffing felt like discovering the genre all over again. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride since then with the departure and return of Blad and albums that, oddly for the power metal genre, seem to improve with age and familiarity and are sometimes best left on the shelf for a few months and savoured during an appropriate, ‘Falconer’ mood swing.
The most obvious thing that would strike the average Falconer fan, and as the press release points out, is that this latest platter is both faster and more ‘metal’ than previous efforts. Fans will already be forming their own pre-conceptions based on that alone and to some extent they’d be right. Yes, it does feel like the other worldly imagery has given way to a sound that is undoubtedly designed to be a bit more gig-friendly. Given the more folky and progressive aspects of the past two albums (the last of which was sung entirely in Swedish apart from a few English-translated bonus tracks), Black Moon Rising sees Weinerhall’s guitars fighting for supremacy in what at times almost sounds like a duel between the two men.
There few real blasts – like Wasteland and the title track for example – all with powerful riffs and simple choruses that would work well in a live arena. Perhaps even challenging a few preconceptions and turning a few heads among the unclean, unconverted power metal naysayers among the metal community. But, as with all Falconer albums, it’s easy to approach Black Moon Rising without due caution. The hooks are often hidden in the verse rather than the chorus and laced with as much melancholy as they are power metal cheese. It’s all there but sometimes they are so tightly packaged that they can pass you by only to return at some inappropriate moment when you find yourself whistling some absurd sounding folky jig while standing in a line at the post office. There are a few tracks which have the distinct air of familiarity like Scoundrel and the Squire. But others, like the first track Locust Swarm, is handed to us on a platter as a ready-made future fan favourite as well as the hidden depths and potential greats like In Ruins and Age of Runes.
Black Moon Rising sounds like a statement of intent to show what this band can achieve and providing them with a few more options for longer, heavier set that shrug off the quieter, crooning bard-like adventures found in more abundance on some other albums. Will that bother some fans? Those who found Among Beggars and Thieves to be the pinnacle of all things Falconer or those that will forever long for a return to a carbon copy of Chapters from a Vale Forlorn? Yes, probably. There is undeniably something missing on Black Moon that has been on almost ever other album. A little bit of Falconer magic, perhaps. But this is still broadly the same old Falconer. Stefan Weinerhall has an uncanny ability to come up with some incredibly catchy riffs and those are undoubtedly the star this time round. And Blad puts in a couple of what might just be his best ever Falconer vocal performances.
As with all Falconer experiences there is a lot of get your teeth into here without being the easily digestible gem that you might be hoping for. Highs and lows tinged with a little disappointment and a nagging feeling that it’s just what you wanted while being all a little too familiar at the same time.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)