I hate Falconer. Okay, that’s not really true, but I have never liked Falconer, let’s put it that way. I first got wind of these guys with the publication of their second album Chapters of a Vale Forlorn and I was very unimpressed. Since then I’ve heard a things here and there, and nothing convinced me away from my previous conviction. I didn’t think what I heard was particularly good, nor did I think it was particularly interesting. In spite of the fact that I’m a huge fan of guitarist Stefan Weinerhall and drummer Karsten Larsson’s previous project Mithotyn (an absolutely underrated band), the power metal tinged Falconer never did anything for me at all.
That is, until I heard Armod.
Armod (which means “Poverty” in Swedish) is a collection of folk metal tracks entirely in Swedish that break largely against the mold of what the band has done previously. This is partially because the whole album is in Swedish, and also because the whole thing isn’t written by the band. Of the 11 tracks 7 are written entirely by Weinerhall (musically). Of the other four tracks three are traditional songs that are rearranged by the band and one of them is by Swedish legend Cornelis Vreeswijk (“Grimasch om morgonen“). This is not to say that the band is just taking the songs and not doing anything with them. Instead, as one would expect, they make power metally arrangements of these tracks and turn beautiful folk tracks into gripping and simultaneously groovy folk metal tracks. And given the performances on here (and the excellent arrangements), these guys nail it home and make what is easily the best album I’ve heard this year until now.
At just a hair under 50 minutes Armod bursts out the gate with “Svarta Ã¤nkan,” which caught me off guard with its heaviness, to be honest. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the downtuned chug and harmonized guitars just nailed me right in the gut and that wasn’t the only time. “Griftefrid” actually starts out with a blast beat and trem picking a la blackened folk metal or drummer Larsson’s other project King of Asgard (or Mithotyn). Both “Dimmornas drottning” and “O, tysta ensamhet” show off a more acoustic and laid back approach to folk metal. The former enlists the beautiful female vocals of HelÃ©ne Blad and harmonies which interact beautifully with her brother Mattias’s dramatic delivery, while the latter is a re-arranged folk tune which I have not been able to get out of my head since I first heard it; it is perfectly done, and the guitar solo and heavy verse are stellar.
After the excellent “Vid rosornas grav” begins what I arbitrarily have decided is “Side B” of Armod (I’d buy this on vinyl!). Here the listener is treated to two rearranged traditional instrumental tracks “Eklundaspolskan,” where the main instrument is violin, and “Gammal fÃ¤bodpsalm” which is a rip-roaring guitar solo that should not be missed (note that Hedlund’s solos are stellar on every song). HelÃ©ne Blad’s vocals get revisited to great success in a duet on the 7 minute epic “Herr Peder och hans syster,” (which is a seriously disturbing story, if you get a chance to translate the lyrics) and the penultimate track “Fru Silfver” belongs among the heavier tracks on the first part of the recordâ€”also excellent with a great heavy chug and addictive melody.
There is literally only one moment on the entire album that I could do without. At the end of “Grimborg” the listener is “treated” to a classic rock style outro with the held out note and the wankery. It’s 15 seconds of annoying. There’s maybe some acoustic guitar tone I don’t like in “O, tysta ensamhet,” on the solo. And in spite of the performance being excellent and the song being beautiful, no one (and I mean no one) bests Vreeswijk on one of his own songs. Also, some people might get turned off by Mattias Blad’s theatrical performance, but I certainly love it. That’s it.
With those minute details out of the way, everything I’ve described here should give you an idea of the tremendous power of this album. Falconer took these tracks and with the help of Andy Laroque turned this record into a simultaneously beautiful and heavy affair with plenty of chug and double kick, while maintaining the beautiful melancholy of Swedish folk music. There have been many bands that have tried to do this kind of thing and only a few have succeeded, and fewer still have succeeded with the kind of ease and deft hand that Falconer have shown here. Armod is a remarkable record and for anyone with folk metal or power metal leanings this is something worth checking out. Unfortunately Armod is supposed to be a one off, and while I can see why the band would do that I’d love to see them do more in this vein in the future because Armod is going to be a record that I will be rocking for a very, very long time.