Achelous – The Icewind Chronicles Review

Achelous play fantasy-inspired power metal. While many of their contemporaries keep their tattered volumes of J.R.R. Tolkein close to their breastplates, Achelous use their second full-length album to create a soundtrack for R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy. I’ve never read Salvatore’s work, but The Icewind Chronicles gives me a pretty good sense of the epic battles that take place within its pages. The record contains their characteristic folk, power, and operatic metal leanings and like Blind Guardian or Manowar (yes, I am referencing them in yet another review), Achelous packs a lot of high adventure into a five-minute song. They’ve been sharpening their axes, but is the battlefield too crowded for another album of dwarves, crystals, and flaming warfare?

The Icewind Chronicles doesn’t dive into any territory that Achelous hasn’t already laid siege to, but it does feel tighter than 2015’s Macedon. The production sounds beefier and the narrative threads feel less forced. The songwriting has matured but at times, the band tries to cram too much into five minutes. Galloping guitar riffs and heavy choruses set a fierce pace early on but then “Mithril Hall” brings the momentum to a screeching halt. I’m not a huge fan of operatic vocals in metal to begin with, but when Christina Petrogianni starts singing about missing the golden walls of mithril hall, it feels like a forced and unnecessary lull. Achelous is better at raising spirits than waxing nostalgic.

For my sack of gold coins, the real heroes of The Icewind Chronicles are singer Chris Kappas and drummer Giannis Roussis. Kappas has the perfect voice for this type of music. It soars over the musical landscape effortlessly but with a compelling tooth to it. His delivery consistently channels the third act vibe of: “The chips are down, the odds are against us, but dammit, we’re gonna win because we’ve got heart!” He sells it in every line and certainly every chorus. It’s rare that I sit up and take note of the drums in this type of double bass-driven power metal but Giannis Roussis does something different. He stands out. Not that the drummers in Sabaton, Iced Earth or even Therion are bad, it’s that they often serve the song to a fault. Here, Roussis shows that you can be creative and elevate the song with unconventional choices. “Halfling’s Gem,” probably the strongest track on the record, benefits from the extra feel Roussis gives to his snare and the simple but tasty double bass work on the pre-chorus and chorus.  In all songs, he plays seamlessly through time changes, off beats and breakdowns with some of the more stylish drumming I’ve heard in a while.

With the exception of “Mithril Hall,” the songs on The Icewind Chronicles are strong. The band does a remarkable job of taking you on a new journey every five minutes. The only tune that clocks in well over six minutes album closer, “Outcast.” While I wish they would have closed on a more energetic note, “Outcast” has a compelling emotional breadth to it, punched by magnificent drum work and singing guitar harmonies. With time, the band may learn to parlay this into an Iron Maiden caliber epic. “The Crystal Shard” evokes Theli era Therion. In a good way. It begins with the “Mega Therion” chorus before the metal kicks in and we’re galloping off again. It’s difficult to blend the operatic and the heavy but Achelous do it well here. Overall, the record shows developing promise for a band that hasn’t quite reached their potential. Perhaps in a few years they will graduate from squire to knight.

How you feel about Achelous will likely depend on your feelings about fantasy-based power metal. It’s not for everyone but The Icewind Chronicles could be your gateway record. It has a lot going for it: heaviness, great production, good musicianship, and a stellar vocalist. You might let the story of lonely warriors and misplaced treasure slide and simply enjoy the musical elements. For those who already like equal doses of RPGs and heavy metal, polish up your d20 and make a saving throw for your eardrums. While much of The Icewind Chronicles has been dungeon-ed before, it won’t feel like a total drag-on your music library.1


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: No Remorse Records
Websites: achelous.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/profile
Releases Worldwide: March 17, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Report to HR for pun-ishment. – Steel
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