One of the things that one can never take into account when one is a music reviewer is the fact that one receives records and must render judgment in a short amount of time. Especially as a “soulless blog,” production of material sometimes happens in a week. In a sense, every review you read from a label who doesn’t trust this Angry Metal Guy is being done “split second” as opposed to having time to let a record ripen. Such was definitely the case with Crimfall‘s first record As the Path Unfolds… which, while I enjoyed it, didn’t strike me as anything more than just an enjoyable record. However, here I am two years later listening to it regularly and really loving it. If I would score the record today I would give it a 4.5 and I would encourage you all to buy it (buy it, seriously, it’s great).
So you can bet that I was stoked as hell when I figured out that The Writ of Sword was coming to me. I had just broken out As the Path Unfolds… again and was mesmerized by the power and beauty of the music, which in a sense is like a mix of Turisas, Battlelore and even a bit of Moonsorrow thrown in for good measure. The music on that record is simultaneously heavy, entertaining and playful while still being very good. And especially vocalist Helena Haaparanta shines. So you can guess that living up to this wasn’t going to be super easy, but hey The Writ of Sword ain’t half bad either.
In fact, it seems that there is a thematic connection between the two records. First, As the Path Unfolds… uses autumnal colors, and the last track is “NovembrÃ©.” The Writ of Sword picks up where that one left off, in a much colder place, “Dicembre,” and this definitely shows throughout. While As the Path Unfolds… was a playful record in a lot of ways, The Writ of Sword is a much more serious record. There is a coldness to the production, and the writing is a lot more in the Moonsorrow range at times (including the soundscape tracks), like at the beginning of the title track “The Writ of Sword” and the track “Silver and Bones.” However, these are offset by the female vocals, which creates a moving contrast.
Though when you have a vocalist like Helena Haaparanta, it’s damn hard to have music that sounds too cold. Her voice is warm and beautiful and every time she sings on this record she shines. Especially when she’s doing the sort of folky stuff like in “Frost upon Their Graves” and “Son of North,” she’s outstanding. And other heavier parts on this record, too, differ a lot from the more cold, dirgey sounds that one would expect for a winter themed record. The band still falls back on the excellent melodic work that makes their first record so enjoyable a lot, and there are folk melodies and orchestrations that litter every track.
All of that said, however, there is an inventiveness that was definitely on As the Path Unfolds… that is not here. This could be because the record is more somber and winter-themed, but I feel like it’s a real shame. Particularly in the trailing half of the last record there are some incredibly inventive vocal harmonies and parts and those were just missing here, instead there is a lot more focus on big, epic orchestral parts and thematically building coldness, sadness and beauty. Or at least, that’s the impression that I have of it. Also, while the production is good, I did like the warmer production better. Particularly on the opening track “Storm Before the Calm” I felt like the music was almost into metalcore or deathcore territory sonically and that really turned me off.
Still, when all is said and done The Writ of Sword is a great record from a band that definitely ranks among the upper echelons of Finnish metal for me now. The writing is excellent, the performances are top notch and they sport the best female vocalist in metal and she adds a dimension to this band that no other bands in the scene has. If you’re a fan of the Finnish orchestral metal scene, this is a must pre-order and since it clocks in at EXACTLY 45 minutes, my guess is that there will be a vinyl release and that the follow up in a couple years will be even better.