Released: 2008, Metal Blade
Reviewer: The Crimson King
“Let me bring you songs from the wood”
And 31 years ago that is exactly what Ian Anderson and the boys in Jethro Tull did. Little could they imagine at the time that the album of the same name would go on to be a primary influence in breeding an entire genre of heavy metal. The Power/Folk genre of metal has been thriving since the beginning of the decade, with each passing year seeing more mid-evil, axe-wielding bards toss their proverbial cap into the arena. When it is done right, the power/folk meld can produce some truly unique and quality music, and when it isn’t it can really be a disaster. Falconer has been navigating through this genre of music since 2001 with the mixed results mentioned above.
And so, two years following what was an expertly crafted album in NORTHWIND, Falconer unveils AMONG BEGGARS AND THIEVES. NORTHWIND marked the return of original vocalist Mathias Blad into the fold, who was absent from the band’s prior two releases. It was a much needed reunion, as it seems that the band is only capable of producing great music when Blad is on board. A big part of this comes from the fact that Blad, while certainly not the most technically proficient vocalist in the business, may be the perfect example of a vocalist who just completely fits the type of music played by his respective band. Falconer without Blad is like Priest without Halford, it just doesn’t work. So as NORTHWIND marked a return home for Blad, it also marked a return home for the band to the type of sound that defined them. AMONG BEGGARS AND THIEVES picks up right where NORTHWIND left off, offering a seamless blend of power metal and folk music, and is another major home run for the band.
The album opens with “Field of Sorrow” which begins with a classic power metal riff and double bass blast beats. The song remains a burner until about four minutes when it stops dead, changes to a slow tempo, allowing for a beautiful solo to be played beneath Blad’s vocals (which are very reminiscent of Ian Anderson) before returning to the tempo set in the beginning of the song. “Man of the Hour” follows, and very well may be the highlight of the album. With a firm base set in power metal, the song continually brings in folk metal guitar leads after the verses, and lands the best chorus on the album where the double bass drum and riff pattern stop dead for two lines, allowing them to be sung over a flute passage, before kicking back in. The device, which has potential for disaster, is instead pulled off perfectly, and makes the song one of the best tracks I have heard this year by any band. The short ballad “A Beggar Hero” follows. Clocking in at just over two minutes the song is a pure folk ballad that is at the same time whimsical and beautiful. The song presents a perfect interplay between the male and female vocals making it another standout.
The band continues to impress throughout the release. The lead single “Carnival of Disgust” is another seamless meld of metal riffs, acoustic passages, flute, and folk style leads, all being held together by Blad who is equal part singer and storyteller. This interplay continues through other standout tracks like “Boiling Led” and the majestic “Pale Light of the Silver Moon”. The only negative comments I can muster up about the release are that the band does cross over into being slightly corny on the chorus of “Mountain Men” and that the inclusion of a few tracks sung in their native Swedish, while still being great songs, come off a bit out of place.
With AMONG BEGGARS AND THIEVES, Falconer has provided 2008 with another stand-out release. The album is exactly what fans of the band, and fans of this genre of music relish in, and should be purchased without hesitation by these individuals. Personally, I feel the album is the best that band has done to date. Actually Ian Anderson summed it up best in that classic song 31 years ago when he sang: “Songs from the wood make you feel much better.”