Every once a while we at AMG
help each other out with hack and slash each other for promos. In this case, I slice-and-diced one Very Messy Individual™ (Holdeneye) in the name of a symphonic death metal band by the name of Stormlord. You see, symphonic death and symphonic black metal seem to be on the upswing this year. Gorgon, Kull, Harmdaud, and Aephanemer all dropped sweet examples of the symphonic/melodic style, with Fleshgod Apocalypse, Aether, Septicflesh and Shadow of Intent looming close behind. As a result, my attention became easily attracted to such releases. What I did not realize, however, was how far back Stormlord actually go (1991). So I put on my big-boy research glasses and got to work. Will these Italians live up to their long-lived legacy with their sixth epic Far?
Almost. I say this because Stormlord unleashed a near-perfect album in 2008 called Mare Nostrum, a ballsy, frothing marine marvel of glorious orchestrations and gill-ripping hooks. Not only is that record awesome in general, but I hear it’s ripple effect invading the sonic waters of the upcoming Kull release, along with Aephanemer‘s latest and pretty much everything Gorgon and Kalmah have released. Considering Stormlord predate almost every symphonic death/black act I could think of (with the notable exception of Bal-Sagoth, to whom the aforementioned bands also owe a great debt), that comes as no surprise.
What is surprising is how well Far holds up not only against Stormlord‘s twenty-eight years of epic metal history, but also against the over-saturated field of younger competitors, both in style and in quality. A wide array of keys and strings blend harmoniously with an equally varied assortment of riffs, tremolos and vocal styles. Take opener “Leviathan,” for instance. Highly reminiscent of Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s recent output minus the tech, this track makes a strong first impression for the rest of the record implementing a clever use of counterpoint between Gianpaolo Caprino’s and Andrea Angelini’s guitars and Riccardo Struder’s and Caprino’s synth/keyboard work. In fact, the first four tracks, along with “Invictus,” all impress with myriad approaches to the blackened death metal formula, occasionally infusing clean chants and choruses (courtesy of bassist Francesco Bucci and Caprino) to further widen the scope of the music. Cristiano Borchi proves himself to be a capable frontman as well, showcasing a wide range of harsh rasps and thunderous growls.
On the other hand, Far isn’t as strong as Mare Nostrum. Firstly, Stormlord dip their toes in calmer waters more often on Far than before, and the results don’t always benefit the album. “Cimmeria” and “Romulus” both set a more relaxed pace, the former wandering between cheesy hawk screeches in the beginning and a passionate but overdramatic monologue near the end, and the latter exploring a militaristic march that fails to make a significant imprint. Secondly, there are memorable moments in the record that simply don’t feature often enough. “Leviathan” features a fantastic section with some kind of stringed instrument or harpsichord near the end. “Romulus” and “Levante” contain baritone clean vocals that are implemented beautifully. “Vacuna” capitalizes on the band’s blackened edge more so than any other track extant. All of these moments deserved greater prevalence to make this record stand out as well as Mare Nostrum does. Lastly, Bucci disappears in the mix unless nobody else is playing and David Folchitto, though obviously skilled in the percussive arts, seems not to explore his talents as freely as before. Perhaps that’s due to the weakened nature of some tracks as a whole, but I suspect the larger issue is that the drum section isn’t written as well this time around.
I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be a long-standing band with a history of consistent quality and a slew of newer bands all owing something to that band’s sound. Regardless of its flaws, Far performed admirably in the face of lofty expectations and stiff competition. The band still has a knack for epic constructs and the band embodies professional musicianship. While every track isn’t a winner, Stormlord are far from washed out and those with an appreciation for everything opulent will get a big kick out of Far.