Life is a funny thing. For those of you who know what it means to feed and house children, watch your bank account empty the first of every month, or work every day of the week at a speed unhealthy for cheetahs, you know the kinda “funny” I mean. Life’s a wild, fucking adventure that’s about as satisfying as it is annoying. For every high, there’s a massive low. For every milestone, there’s a setback. For every breakthrough, there are countless failures. Sometimes it gets to the point where all you remember from one day to the next is the bullshit. What does this have to do with Stormhammer and their sixth LP Welcome to the End? A hell of a lot.
Two years ago, my world flip-turned upside down and here we are again. This time ain’t nearly as bad as the last time, but life is back to fuck with me once more. Be it then or now, Stormhammer continues to come out of nowhere, rearing its ugly, power-metalled head and adding poison to my mood. The question is, does Welcome to the End (a title that has haunted me for over a week now) have more or less poison in its fangs than 2015’s Echoes of a Lost Paradise?
Actually… Welcome to the End has far less poison in its fangs and, therefore, is far less disappointing than its predecessor. What does “far less disappointing” mean? A half point. I know that’s nothing to write home about, but this new record is one of the band’s more enjoyable discs. A lot of that is due to Jürgen Dachl. Though he still relies on his Hansi Kürsch vocal style, he shows more versatility on Welcome than he ever did on Echoes. On songs like “Secret,” “Spirit of the Night,” and “Black Dragon,” Dachl deviates from his Hansi highs to add Joakim Brodén (Sabaton) lows and Johan Hegg-esque (Amon Amarth) growls. A combination that, if anything, breaks up the monotony of the songwriting. He even takes a stab at some Danzig-like coolness on tracks like “The Heritage” and “My Dark Side.” The former goes even further as Dachl shares vocals with ex-Envinya singer Natalie Pereira dos Santos.
But, beyond the vocals, Welcome to the End is pretty run-of-the-mill. Hell, even with the vocals, I guess you can say it’s still run-of-the-mill. And the formula that works the best for them is one that many of the genre’s detesters despise the most: repetition. A fine example of this is the opening Viking-themed “Northman.” Like Echoes‘ “Glory Halls of Valhalla,” this opening power metal anthem is introduced by an orchestral instrumental before it starts groping at your balls, refusing to release its grasp for a full five minutes. But it’s the chorus that gets this song (as well as “Watchmen,” “Into the Night,” and “Spirit of the Night”) stuck in your head. It’s not only catchy but it repeats over and over again, just in case you missed it the first time. Though not original, the repetitive choruses give these songs that fun, old-fashioned, power metal feel.
But it’s the unique vibe of “The Heritage” that I find myself most attracted to. Like the Rage-meets-Blind Guardian title track and the moody, ever-growing “My Dark Side,” this number has a lot of melodic character. What really makes “The Heritage” stand out is its unique male-female vocal duet and a hooking chorus that, for a change, doesn’t sound like Blind Guardian (actually, it sounds a bit like Maiden). “My Dark Side” also has these positive qualities and the two of them represent the kind of vocal diversity and catchy songwriting the band needs to be successful. But closer “Black Dragon” is proof that you can’t just mix up the vocals for something to stick. If the songwriting isn’t there, the vocals can’t save it. And that’s what makes “Black Dragon” a terrible closer for the album; killing the vibe the record worked so hard to create.
Thankfully, things are pretty much over by then and, after an hour-long run time, many of our readers will find it over ten minutes before “Black Dragon” even begins. These Germans do love their long albums and at fourteen tracks and sixty-four minutes, this one is their longest. That being said, I suspect I’ll be returning to this disc more than any of their others (except for maybe Lord of Darkness). While the score ain’t high, Welcome to the End is one of the band’s better releases and power metal lovers should find some fun in the stronger numbers.