Cards firmly on the tavern table. I’ve been a fan of Falconer since picking up the second album – probably so far back it was in an actual record shop rather than arriving in a white van driven by a pleasant and polite man of Eastern European descent on a Saturday morning. Hooked on the honeyed vocals of Mathias Blad, the black-metallised folk power melodies of Stefan Weinerhall and so often drenched in melancholy like a finely matured cheese rather than the typical cheddar normally served up in power metal circles. I suspect many Falconer fans have followed a similar path to me. The first album was the template, the second repeated the formula while adding some new ideas along the way (my favourite even through, on reflection, the first is arguably Falconer’s finest); the disappointment that Blad was not to be found on the third and fourth albums (then guiltily revisiting both years later in the spirit of reconciliation to find in hindsight that Grime Vrs Grandeur is every bit as good as some of the other albums and even the more esoteric Sceptre rewards committed listening). The glorious return, if slightly bloated, Northwind, the salivating, unrivalled hooks of the epic Among Beggars and Thieves and the nagging disappointment of the last two releases…. Patchy sometimes in the latter years but always with flashes of brilliance even when otherwise falling short: Locust Swarm shines even though I’ve returned numerous times to Black Moon Rising to find it otherwise more or less bereft of Falconer’s usual frisson.
From a Dying Ember, by comparison, is soaked in it from start to finish. Not only that, it seems to take the best elements of everything that has gone before and provides a welcome evolutionary step as a result. Black Moon’s driving heaviness, the soaring cheeseboard hooks of Northwind, the epic tales of Beggars and the frothy, overflowing charm of the first two releases. Blad’s bardic vocals fly on swirling speed metal wings and dance with some of the best guitar solos I think I’ve ever heard on a Falconer album; intense and memorable riffs abound and at times feel heavier ever before; and the sing-song folk breaks will bring a melancholy tear to the eye as well as a shiver of emotion down the spine. Choruses that could have hung slightly are ramped up with some powerful arrangements that means middle ranking tracks that might have otherwise dragged like Redeem and Repent or Testify also sparkle (and meaning that second, third and fourth listens are required before some tracks really catch hold). Add all that together and the likes of Fool’s Crusade, with Blad’s vocals, some stunning guitar work, and impressive sonic landscaping, are breathed with three dimensional life because they hit you from all angles rather than merely relying on the vocals and rapier-like riffs. Other tracks like Desert Dreams and Kings and Queens are just unquestionably great tracks served up to remind you that even after nine albums and a few miss-steps along the way, this is a band that is unrivalled and probably even in a class of its own when it comes to carving a unique brand of power metal music.
Could this become my favourite Falconer album? Amazing that I’m even considering that after worshipping the first two for the best part of two decades. It’s obviously hard to beat the first two and Northwind and Beggars undoubtedly broke new ground in sheer Falconer bliss. But what makes Dying Ember stand out is a matter of consistency not since the self-titled 2001 debut: there’s little, if any, filler. There’s also a good deal of cracking melodies but some welcome, and this shouldn’t be a dirty word in power metal even though it’s so often left at the recording studio door, subtlety. Even instrumental Garnets and a Gilded Rose makes itself noticed with some nice traditional backing and also serves as a worthy intro to In Regal Attire which might well be one of the most stand-out, booming vocal performances I’ve heard so far from Blad. From a Dying Ember has pretty much everything you want from a Falconer album and I’m fully prepared for my opinion of it to blossom further overtime. I’ve not yet decided if anything quite outshines the absolute best of Falconer. But we are in new – or at least thankfully, returning – territory when I say it feels like the band has made an effort to keep the bar all the way through and made the best of everything that’s here – in fact, it feels like time and effort in cultivating the sound has been invested to make each track shine as much as possible. It’s rare to hear that in metal these days when pro-tools can actually achieve the opposite and take the wind out of the sails of some otherwise great albums. Here nothing could be further from the truth.
Falconer even manages to take its own folk influences to new levels as the album progresses. There’s some great, and far from overbearing, use of traditional instruments. And there’s something of the English ‘Morris Dancing’ jig about Thrust the Dagger deep, for example. But it’s the final track, the aptly named Rapture, that escalates this album, from a band brimming with rediscovered confidence, to new realms. The perfect track to end on and one that, again, benefits from Falconer’s rediscovered horsepower and the strongest blast of the band’s black metal origins that we’ve seen so far and take that delicately sprinkled subtlety and spreads it on thick.
It all makes sense perhaps when, as I complete this review, I read on Falconer’s Facebook page that Weinerhall is disbanding the band (haven’t we been here before (or was it they said no more live concerts a few years back?) or is it just that I feel like I’ve heard this so many times only to find them resurfacing a few years later? Cynical of me, I know!). But he explicitly says he wanted to make the album “as good as we possibly could and really concentrate on having all Falconer elements present and really make sure that each element got full devotion” – pretty much exactly as I said they have achieved. He adds: “The sole decision to make this the final album actually sparked a new found enthusiasm and engagement for me as a song writer, it was like the final sprint for a long distance runner. The last thing we wanted was to release a “so-so” final album, but really make it good enough so we could end the band with our heads held high, thus we let it take it´s time.” I would say that, therefore, is mission accomplished.
On a minor point, I’m not entirely sure what is going on with the cover which almost feels like they put so much effort into finely crafting the album’s sound that they completely forgot about what to put on the front and then just bunged that on the front – it’s such an ‘un-Falconer’ cover, one that could sit on pretty much any folk-driven power metal album, I can’t actually understand what they were thinking. But if you’re still with Falconer after all this time you’ve probably not being keeping up for the covers alone. So I’m happy to report that this is an album from a band delivering on multiple levels and which seems to have matured over the past two or three albums in different ways and now delivers this. Far from a dying ember. This is Falconer in full flight. Enjoy.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)