The Chinese are loose in the fantasy metal universe. Or are they? And how does this all fit into a viking fighting longship, dragon head and all? Well, it doesn’t. The tune reaches us from down-under: The Aussie band Stormtide are hitting the world with their début full length album Wrath of an Empire.
And it is all about the old question. How can you differentiate yourself from the Symphonic Death Metal and Fantasy Metal crowd out there by adding more spice? Well, first, they sail dangerously close to Amon Amarth and mix this with an almost Amaranthe-esque use of keyboards and synthesizers. Then the powers that be call it Fantasy Metal in view of their magician infused tale. Stir well, add some Chinese sounding keyboard strokes to your metal and growl the hell out of it. To make it complete, put the cherry on the cake by giving some of that stuff a folksy twist and you could about explain the extent of the offering before us.
And I lamented it before. When background sounds get as loud as the growls that should be in your face, then this is a bad sign. And as the label-led mainstream dictates, everything needs to be loud. You thus get the friggin’ keyboards – Chinese and all – before you get the growls. And some of them tracks are brickwalled almost as bad as the Black Metal folks of Darkend managed to do for their latest. Interestingly, separation gets better later in the record, but of that further down the road.
The disc also suffers from a somewhat repetitive song structure, getting us all of the same all over again for quite a few of the tracks. This is especially true for the first half of the album, to about – say – Sage of Stars. As from this track onwards, things look a bit more lively. But more to that later.
Now, let’s get them off the hook some!
There is not that much of the ugly in Wrath of an Empire. You got a Fantasy Metal band that is NOT trying to go full geek on you, like Avantasia and their ilk. On top, the mystique is for once not shrouded in Black Metal antics or – worse – in heavily synthesized drum machine madness. On the contrary, this band of six serves their mead with music made by real people. As in real instruments being played. And to top it, their effort is more on the serious side, not trying to win fans with tricks way down the silly road. A strategy that folks like Gloryhammer have come to fame and success with (and I love these guys for what they are). Even if Stormtide also use fake armor and swords for their live shows. But hey, goes with the territory, doesn’t it? They shalt be forgiven.
Wrath of the Empire will make you pause, though!
And they do that with their carefully crafted soundscape, oriental keyboards and all. But I would have liked a crisper, more powerful and for sure more refined tune. Growls better crafted, meatier riffs and a few more solos woven into the magic fabric of theirs. It comes thus as no surprise that Metal Hell Records decided to issue Dawnsinger as their official video. This track comes very close of the sound we should have had more of.
Now, don’t get me wrong: The other tracks are by no means bad, but mostly suffer from the aforementioned woes and this is a pity. I like the skillful use of epic moments throughout the album. Which is refreshing, if you compare this to other bands, who like to wield the epic theme on ye like a fucking warhammer. But then again, all of a sudden, epic goes out the door, replaced by crunchy, down-to-earth metal. And that delivers a quirkiness to their tracks that is frankly refreshing.
Towards the end you will find a couple of pearls that really outshine anything present on the first half. Let me just mention A Heroes Legacy, The Green Duck (last track) and for sure Ride to Ruin. I liked the folksy flavor of the latter and the complex, skillfully implemented structure of instruments and sounds. Even if the implied fist pumping towards the end kind of takes away from some of its allure.
Stormtide indeed delivers a goodly portion of wrath to its fans. The band produced a laudable début album. Wrath of an Empire will have no problem to stand on its own in this decidedly embattled genre. Going forward, the band will need to get more aggressive and build some significant refinements, oomph and diversity into their tune.
Having said that and looking at the talent before us, I am equally sure they will succeed in their conquest of the Northern Hemisphere. And send their magical armies across oceans and lands to strike fear into the hearts of their brethren of the North.