Released: 2004, Locomotive Music
Reviewer: Night of the Realm
Wuthering Heights is a fairly new band in my metal catalog. The 2002 sophomore album from these Danish folk-prog-power metallers, TO TRAVEL FOR EVERMORE really caught my ear when I finally got to hear it several months back. Impressed by that second effort, I quickly acquired the band’s third and newest release FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.
“Gather Ye Wild,” my friends; the bagpipes and folky guitar lead carry the album forward into “The Road Goes Ever On.” I’ll admit it, the first thing I thought of when I read the title was the animated version of THE HOBBIT and Glenn Yarborough’s version of “Roads Go Ever Ever On.” The song builds beautifully from the impressive vocal display, with flute and symphonic strings building into the catchiest song on the album, tearing into some furious speedy power metal. Oh, yeah! Leads and solos abound throughout the nearly 8-minutes of this song. Erik Ravn and Henrik Flyman fill the album with lots of galloping power metal riffs, neo-classical leads, as well as folk and progressive themes. There is no shredding wankery here; the guitars are all focused and well-written individual compositions. I love how Wuthering Heights runs the folk melody through the main theme of the song not just here, but throughout every song on the album.
The first thing on this album that jumps out and grabs me are the vocals. Gone is ex-Tad Morose frontman Kristian Andrén, replaced by Nils Patrik Johansson, who has sung in two bands unknown to me, Astral Doors and Space Odyssey. So long, Kristian, although I cannot complain about your vocals at all, it is obvious that Nils Patrik Johansson is the wave of the future. Damn, does this guy have a set of pipes! Nils is able to belt out some mean lines with power comparable to guys like Dio and Harry “Tyrant” Conklin with a voice that, to me at least, sounds like somewhat of a cross between Russell Allen and Martin Walkyier. Perhaps it’s just the prog-folk blend of the music that pushes my mind towards that analogy, but in any case, Nils’ vocals are clean and commanding yet still carry an aggressive edge.
“Tree,” despite it’s short and bland title is an interesting song that carries throughout it a feeling much like the slower, folkier songs from Falconer’s second album that builds up strength into a more traditional power metal approach the last minute absolutely EXPLODES for a brief, although brilliant bout of speed metal. Nice use of the epic choral lines around the 3:24 mark.
The masterpiece of the album is the trilogy “Longing for the Woods” which is separated into three free-standing tracks, the powerful galloping “The Wild Children,” concluding with a minstrel-type flair, “The Ring of Fire,” with its intense leads, and “Herne’s Prophecy,” which features some bombastic symphonic choral elements. Each part of the trilogy is separated by several other tracks, which is quite an interesting way to deliver an epic. In between parts II and III of “Longing for the Woods” is a cover of a folk song titled “The Bollard,” a melancholic and beautiful piece accented with soft strings, whistle, and flute. Continuing the Celtic theme of the album, this little track is a break in the action that fits perfectly among the power metal of the rest of the album. As if to offset “The Bollard” is the instrumental, “Bad Hobbits Die Hard,” which, despite it’s absolutely awful title is an excellent instrumental. The shred here is intense as Erik and Henrik are allowed free reign with keyboardist Rune Brink jumping in with his equally fantastic input to the duel. As the album comes to an end, “Land of Olden Glory” gives us a symphonic track that reminds me slightly of a Rhapsody composition before “Lament for Lórien” which, just as the title suggests, would find a worthy place in Middle Earth fitting well with the Lady Galadriel’s fair kingdom.
With the release of FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, 2004 is off to a great start for power metal. Although I never cared much for the works of novelist Emily Bronte (from which Wuthering Heights draws their name), and I absolutely despise Thomas Hardy (from whom the album draws its title) as one of the worst novelists in the English language, this album is certain to set Wuthering Heights at the forefront of both the folk and power metal genres. With their excellent use of progressive, folk, and power elements, the members of Wuthering Heights have demonstrated their ability to deliver a fresh and original sound that sets them apart from countless other power metal bands. While fans of bands such as Falconer, Skyclad, Elvenking, and Symphony X will especially like Wuthering Heights, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is the album that is not to be missed by anyone!