As a general rule, metal is just plain better in Sweden. Even half-hearted attempts or poor imitations turn out better when sourced from that otherworldly place, with its spike-studded halls and platters of herring, meatballs, and fruit soups. And speaking of fruit soups, the new generation of HammerFall and Iron Maiden praise has arrived in the form of Stormhold’s second studio album, Salvation. This is a band that I’ve been meaning to check into since noticing 2015’s Battle Of The Royal Halls, given my preoccupation with all sorts of Swedish power. On the surface, Stormhold bears all the hallmarks of traditionally-styled dual lead guitar heavy metal juxtaposed with power, but will its classy logo, plague mask-envisaged mascot and equally medieval-inspired song titles hold up to close examination? After all, even mighty Sweden has seen its share of misfires.
Salvation starts out on shaky footing from the very first moments. It is distinctly possible that vocalist Filip Peterson and I are not going to be on speaking terms after this review, because having a frontman who is a dedicated vocalist and yet struggles with sloppy delivery, overdramatization, and even, occasionally, pitch is a hard pill for me to swallow. This isn’t always the case – when he’s buried in backing vocals or singing softly he sounds just fine, but from the first chorus of “Heart Of A Hero,” I am reminded strangely of the stylings of Federica De Boni (White Skull) when he’s singing solo. Unfortunately, neither he nor Stormhold as a whole boasts the same ballsy charisma as her Italian outfit – vocally or otherwise.
Because, and I’ll say this plainly, although the guitar and rhythm work is respectable, it is only vaguely so. If you stripped the vocals away and played this side by side with early HammerFall or even one of the less thrilling Judas Priest albums, you would find either of the latter to be unequivocally more interesting and less repetitive. Almost all of Stormhold’s “riffs” are ultra simplistic and utterly unworthy of note. We’re talking less demanding than my mainstream hard rock-inspired high school garage band here, and if that’s the case, why aren’t we all still listening to AC/DC and Aerosmith? Add to this the fact that all the songs are composed in common time with a narrow tempo range, and you’ve got compositions so childishly simple and predictable that listening to them as a power metal fan is about as much fun as watching paint dry.
Perhaps the sole exception to this rule is “We March”, which is a breeze of fresh air blowing across a lyrically empty and musically barren landscape. Predictably, this is the one and only song available from the album pre-release, as it is easily the most energetic offering. I realize this is standard heavy/power metal marketing schema, but given how BORING everything else on Salvation is, this is a noticeable instance where the single is frustratingly deceptive and unrepresentative of the album as a whole. “Black Death”, “God’s Crusade”, and opener “Heart Of A Hero” might appeal to those who have wholly pledged their lives to the trudging medieval trad metal sound, but for connoisseurs or even white bread power metal fans, the sheer blandness on display will be nigh mystifying.
All the trappings look right, but Salvation is Campbell’s tomato soup trussed up like a gourmet lobster bisque and listed on the menu at the same price – much to this diner’s displeasure. I’m really not an audiophile, but I can comment that the production and instrumental tones are about the only aspects of this album that seem to sound just as they should. I’m afraid we’ve got to chalk up one more in the “Just South of Mediocre” column for the not-so-illustrious Pure Steel Records, which seems to have a special talent for finding just this caliber of heavy metal.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pure Steel Records
Releases Worldwide: December 8th, 2017