It’s already been a great year for power metal. Galactic space metal titans, Gloryhammer, along with military staple Swedes, Sabaton, have both released new albums into the fray, each full to the brim with tongue-in-cheek humour and over-the-top choral arrangements.
Well why let them have all the fun? There’s still one area that’s always bound to need representing in the form of epic chants and symphonic anthems, and that’s Dwarves. Italian band, Wind Rose, formed in 2009, have based their entire image around the Dwarves from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and boy if that doesn’t get my nerd blood pumping, I don’t know what will.
Recently, they’ve dropped their newest record, Wintersaga, and it promises a lot in the way of Dwarves, drinking, and a hell of a lot of fantasy clichés. Let’s dive in.
Their fourth album begins with, ‘Of Iron and Gold’, an instrumental piece as beautiful as it is epic. The sound of pickaxes clattering on rock fill our ears, before chanting and rhythm sections kick in. It’s a great opener, really making that adrenaline thunder through your veins and invoking images of far-off mountains and distant quests. This then bleeds into a peal of drumwork from the title track: ‘Wintersaga’. The powerful booming vocals of frontman, Francesco Cavalieri, are never more evident. One thing to note the band utilize very well are flutes and gentler instruments, to really give it that folkish feel. But then the guitar shreds and you realise that you are, despite all that, still in the presence of Dwarves. And they know how to rock.
‘Wintersaga’ is an epic, over-arching piece that feels almost too early in the track listing, but a welcome opener nonetheless. It sates your appetite for power metal, even drawing from some of Alestorm’s back catalogues for riffs at times.
‘Drunken Dwarves’, the second single of the album to be released, is exactly what you want in a metal song about dwarves in a bar. Tolkien lovers, tabletop dungeon explorers and general geeks will all revel (or lament, given your chosen affiliations) at this catchy meadfest full of fantastical racism and threats. ‘Nobody is welcome in a tavern hall of Drunken Dwarves…’ is an almost hysterical line, and if not for the awesome riffing you’d probably be bursting into fits of laughter. But Wind Rose are nothing if not self-aware, and just double the long-flogged clichés with drunken ‘Hey!’s and incomprehensible speech. I have no doubt this is going to be a live staple of theirs.
‘Diggy Diggy Hole’ might be the catchiest gem of all on Wintersaga, but unfortunately, it’s not really theirs. It’s a cover of YouTube giants, YogCast’s original tale on mining and… more mining. Only with more stomping and power. And it sounds amazing. There’s not much to say here – it’s not a piece renowned for its lyrical craftsmanship – it just chugs and chugs (rather like the Dwarves).
‘Mine Mine Mine!’ is a more run-of-the-mill power metal track, still packed with Dwarven imagery and tales of kinsmanship. It’s just not brilliant given the tracks we’ve had served to us on an iron platter so far. ‘The Art of War’ has a driving backbeat that’ll make the snobbiest Elf bang their head along, with terrific vocals and backing chants.
Our saga takes us to ‘There and Back Again’ next, the speediest track yet, with guitar almost impossible to comprehend at first. But then the musical flesh is peeled back, so to speak, and we get this rather beautiful ballad, complete with soft acoustic. From there it builds into a heart-wrenching piece on how these Dwarves simply want to see their homeland again. Plagued with monsters and Orcs and Sauron knows what else, we see the band at their barest, the softer side of Cavalieri’s vocals coming out. It’s a highlight, undoubtedly.
‘The King Under the Mountain’ continues the Tolkien references, with ‘hoo’s and ‘hah!’s that would make Bon Jovi weep. Sadly, from there on, it becomes like almost every other power metal song. Not bad, just not great. Still, we see some more Dwarves – and that’s generally pretty cool.
The album closes with the nigh-ten minute ‘We Were Warriors’. A sorrowful violin weaves its way through mountainscapes and battlefields, perfectly capturing Tolkien-esque realms and distant cities. We’re then taken through an odyssey of hardship and homeland, one that will no doubt enthrall all races alike played live. It feels like a real backdrop to the Battle of the Five Armies, with guitar that hits at you back and forth.
And with that, the Wintersaga of Wind Rose is complete. All in all, it’s a decent record. The highs are very high – with ‘Drunken Dwarves’ and ‘Diggy Diggy Hole’ being stand-out tracks that will never get old – and the lows are very meh. There’s no track on the album I’d outright skip, but the last half certainly suffers from a distinct lack of overly epic hits.
Either way, I love the imagery and concept of Wind Rose, and I think they’re going to sound and look amazing live – they even rock out in Dwarven armour. Their next move is playing support on the European leg of Gloryhammer’s new ‘Galactic Terrorvortex’ Tour, where yours truly shall be in attendance. I’m positive they’ll bring the mead hall to its knees.