Gladenfold – Nemesis Review

I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed some solid Finnish metal. You know what I mean—the kind of metal that’s aggressive, adventurous, inspired by nature or history or something along those lines, with that je ne sais quoi1 that is the Finnish charm. I didn’t realize at the time that Gladenfold is a Finnish band though—mostly I just liked the album cover on Nemesis, and the promise of some solid melodeath helped too. Of course, it takes more than being Finnish to write some fine metal, but these guys have some experience beneath their belts, having been crafting adventurous tunes since 2003. Nemesis is their third full-length release, and one that took me very pleasantly by surprise.

The list of influences cited by Gladenfold is a long one; Nemesis feels like a smorgasbord of some of the best of modern metal in the symphonic, power, and melodeath scenes. There are big symphonic moments in the vein of Nightwish and Wintersun, with choruses that remind me of Sonata Arctica and a serious power metal vibe that screams Blind Guardian. Throughout, vocalist Esko Itälä’s seriously versatile performance takes clear cues from Kamelot and Tommy Karevik (to the point where I initially thought he was providing guest vocals on the title track). Lest I give you the wrong impression though, think it not—Gladenfold is not “just another” male-fronted symphonic power metal band copying the cool kids; the blackened/melodeath influence from the likes of Children of Bodom ties the package together nicely. Nemesis takes a lot of cues from a lot of different places, but manages to maintain its own distinct identity throughout. It’s hard to argue with the setup; how’s the execution?

The short answer is that the execution is great. Opener “Carnival of the Hunter” sets us up nicely for success, with big orchestrations (Paavali Pouttu), slick riffs (Matias Knuuttila, Toke Gerdts), and Itälä’s full range, from croons to snarls to growls to power-metal-worthy highs2. The song evokes a spirit of adventure as it beautifully balances blackened power metal riffing (a feeling augmented by Lauri Itälä’s rapid drumming) with catchy choruses and strong symphonies. “Stone of Storms” offers an epic, powerful feel from the first moments, and even “Saraste,” the token ballad track, is strongly affecting and well-made. It also helps that Gladenfold expertly optimizes one of my favorite tropes in metal—piano played alongside heavy riffs. I mean, what more do I want here?

All of the songs I’ve mentioned so far are in the front half of the album, and part of the reason for that is that Nemesis is a fairly front-loaded album. Most of the opening tracks are lively and adventurous, with heaviness and power aplenty. Towards the middle of the album, things slow down a bit, and while I adore “Revelations” for its fantastic vocal melodies and superbly eerie symphonic elements, it represents a turning point in Nemesis; with 21 minutes left to go, it feels like Gladenfold run out of steam somewhat. Maybe it’s the strong polish on the production, or maybe 11 tracks is simply a few too many, but the album’s conclusion lacks the intense pull of its opening tracks. The songs blur together a bit, I lose track of Ville Vesa’s bass, and then it… ends. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are still solid; “Gloria Eternal” is a good example of a fun song that doesn’t quite live up to “Solitude’s Bane” or “Nemesis.” It’s almost as if the back half of Nemesis is trying to “copy” the first half. It’s good, but it isn’t great.

Still, Gladenfold has offered us a well-mixed, aggressive, catchy, and fun album, taking some of the best tropes in modern symphonic metal and largely avoiding sounding rehashed or tired. On the contrary, Nemesis, for the most part, feels fresh, exciting, and fun. Of course, I’m disappointed by how the album ends, but that’s really only because the band set such a high bar for themselves at the start—it’s all good, and it’s all well worth taking some time for. I really look forward to seeing where Gladenfold goes from here.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 319 kbps mp3
Label: Reaper Entertainment
Releases Worldwide: April 29th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. En tiedä mitä?
  2. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I simply failed to find the name of the band’s second singer, but with only one credited in my notes, I can only tip my hat to his performance. Again—serious versatility!
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