Falconer, 'Grime vs Grandeur', 5 of 5 stars
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This band rescued Power Metal, hands down. Forget about Hammerfall. These guys have relevance and majesty and style, all their own, aside from the medieval trademarks. Sure, there's some derring-do, and power metal is often criticized for its trademarks. The point I make is that this is exactly why we love it (when it's done _well_): it's positive, uplifting and inspiring. This is what real Metal is about. Falconer raises a sword in one hand and a tankard of mead in the other. Out of their mouths come anthems of power and glory. Screw the whining from this nu-metal schlock, give me power and glory! On to the new CD...
This is the most political Falconer album yet. The songs, always anthemic, rollicking and powerful, are often about the state of the world today. While songs like this have always been found on each previous album (most notably 'Substitutional World' from the debut and 'Decadence of Dignity' and 'Enter the Glade' from 'Chapters from a Vale Forlorn'), this album is by far the most vocal on social and global issues, starting with the album cover and title. Then there's the first track, 'Emotional Skies', which summons everyone who's sick of the evil machinations of the world to the magickal land of Falconer. The song is perfect Falconer: energized, upbeat, powerful, heavy, an anthem. The chorus alone is one of the most memorable in Metal.
From there, we find that Falconer agrees with me: social justice is fine, but for those who choose paths of stupidity and negativity there is fitting punishment in 'Purgatory Time'. Truly this song is a retort to idiots everywhere, and the guitars lend it backbone. Rolling drums lend it velocity that make it sneer right along with the vocalist. 'Power' is a surprisingly gentle but stern criticism of America and its staggering abuse of its military power at the expense of (comparatively) innocent nations. ("The road to your success/is paved with your shameless lies" and "You've got power, power to devour/use it with sense and the glory is yours.") Don't be put off by political themes, by the way. The songs are highly listenable and easy to sing along. Falconer is one of the few bands to manage this kind of songwriting since Sabbath and 'War Pigs'.
'No Tears for Strangers' is a dark lament about Humanity's capacity to ignore the suffering of others, from the first- person voice of the ignorant ones, explaining why the pain of empathy isn't worthwhile to them. It's fast and dark, not a shred-jaunt but a tune that will carry your mind and get your head banging. You'll also sing along with the titular chorus: "I shed no tears for strangers!" This is verily the Heavy Metal answer to Simon & Garfunkel's 'I am a Rock'.
'The Return' is a fine admonishment, with a positive, encouraging vibe, against drug abuse. I would put this one next to 'Stand Alone' by Iced Earth as a life-affirming anthem along with Sabbath & Dio's 'I' (from 'Dehumanizer' 1992). 'Jack the Knife' is a great retelling of the story of Jack the Ripper in no small way reminiscent of King Diamond's tribute cover of Priest's 'The Ripper'. It's no coincidence perhaps that this album is (expertly!) produced by KD stalwart and Metal Master guitarist Andy LaRoque. There's even a touch of Deep Purple-style organ here. The guitar solo plays to a catchy rhythm section background that makes the song a real traditional Heavy Metal classic. I hope King Diamond decides to cover _this_. I think he would have some serious fun with it.
The last track is in the eternal tradition of Falconer, their archetypical power metal anthem. In it comes, with staccato guitars, plus the vocals lend great majesty, particularly on the keyboard-backed chorus we get some medieval- sounding guitar bridges. There are some very dramatic drum fills. Atop all that, the lyrics of 'Child of the Wild' is an impassioned warning to stop destroying nature and its creatures.
In all, this is a masterful album, and Falconer's best yet. How they've held up through four albums and so many lineup changes yet kept their sound fresh and explorative in a restrictive subgenre like Power Metal is absolutely amazing. Clearly this is the mark of consummate, soulful musicianship. Hell, no, it'll never make it to American Radio.