I’ll admit that I had to Google what a “wind rose” was whilst writing this review. Coming across as a standard-issue unfortunate but flowery power metal name, and I had awful lines like “kiss from a Wind Rose,” “every Wind Rose has it’s thorn,” and all manner of flatulence puns at the ready. But in actuality a wind rose is a device used to measure the direction and strength of winds in any given area. On their second full-length Wardens of the West Wind, these Italian meteorology enthusiasts aim to blow us away with some progressive power metal, but do they bring the storm or a small and forgettable gust?
Although the enticing cover art immediately brings Blind Guardian to mind, the songs behind it often sound more in line with Symphony X and Pyramaze circa Immortal with mercifully non-castrato vocals layered over deftly composed keyboard lines and chugging guitars that can often be described as “heavy.” The keys have a more Blind Guardian-y “medieval” feel than Pyramaze, and the guitars don’t often engage in the Dream Theater-isms present on Symphony X albums like Iconoclast, but contrary to their name, Wind Rose’s power metal isn’t too airy. While the keyboards do get a bit flowery at times, the chunky guitars tend to anchor it down with solid background riffage that gives the plentiful hooky keyboard and vocal melodies ample room to shine whilst playing down the cheese factor.
After a needless intro track, Wind Rose storm onto the battlefield with the Rhapsody-meets-Symphony X ripper “Age of Conquest,” replete with an assault of meaty rather than sugary hooks that make its almost seven minute runtime fly by and had me hitting repeat a few times to see if I missed anything. I didn’t, but as the old adage goes, time flies when you’re having fun. This isn’t even the highlight of the album, as that honour is bestowed upon both “Skull and Crossbones” and “Spartacus” in a two-way tie. “Spartacus” is a Roman-themed epic that recalls Ex Deo in spots with some punishing chugging in tandem with bludgeoning drums offset by massive hooks that see vocalist Francesco Cavalieri and keyboardist Frederico Meranda working in tandem to elevate the song from great to awesome. “Skull and Crossbones” sounds like the glorious bastard child of Blind Guardian and Alestorm with Nightfall vibes in the chorus and a Black Sails at Midnight influence in the verse, and a riff near its conclusion that recalls the stupidly heavy climax of Sunset on the Golden Age’s title track; most importantly, it all comes together like a metal Voltron to make a towering success of a song.
Naturally, Wardens of the West Wind isn’t perfect. Wind Rose excels in quite a few areas, and Cavalieri’s vocals are one of them. His voice is a nice mixture of Russell Allen and Matt Barlow, and he’s charismatic and convincing with primarily mid-range vocal lines and some powerful but not glass-shattering wails. His low-pitched vocals, however, aren’t so great. “The Breed of Durin” is a very good song, but Cavalieri opts to use his lower register a few times and it sounds off, not in pitch but in execution. This is made more noticeable due to the overly loud production emphasizing his vocals and Meranda’s keyboards over everything else. Guitars spend a good chunk of the album doing various chugging rhythms, and apart from coming close on “Born in the Cradle of Storms” they never recapture the energy they had on “Age of Conquest” apart from a few cool leads. Make no mistake, the songs are thoroughly enjoyable, but sometimes end up a tad predictable and lacking in dynamic impact due to the guitar lines and overcompression, respectively.
Wind Rose already made waves in the metal scene with their debut Shadows Over Lothadruin, and Wardens of the West Wind keeps this tornado of momentum up. This is entertaining power metal with reasonable lactose levels, and it feels like these guys are on the brink of something excellent. For now they’re at the “very good” level, but I can’t see that counting as anything but a tick in the “W” column.