Promising signs that we could be on to something a bit special here...
Melbourne battle metal exponents Stormtide have come up with something quite interesting with Wrath of an Empire. Despite bowing at all the usual Pagan altars that gruff-voiced polka merchants habitually find themselves genuflecting in front of, Stormtide inject a bit of local colour into proceedings that might – just might – be enough to help stand them out from the ever increasing symphonic/folk/death crowd.
By local colour I men Asiatic themes; truly exotic little runs and scales are dotted all over WoaE, ensuring that western ears will always find something new to be interested by amongst all the usual banging and clattering.
This is good because, despite being never less than competent and quite often very good, the listener will find their concentration wandering every now and then as the band relies on more prosaic blast- or whimsy- passages. This is always a danger with this sort of music, especially when there are no clean vocals to break up the snarlstorm generated by the three vocalists credited in the notes which accompanied the MP3 link I was sent for review.
That’s not to say there are no dynamics at play here – Conquer the Straits gallops along at a rollicking pace and features some nice orchestration, for instance – but there is a dearth of true hookiness to draw the listener in, making the washes of Japanese influence all the more important in the grand scheme of things.
In fact a lack of true standout songs – as opposed to good pieces of music – is what holds Stormtide back if they want to compete on the world stage. Standout track A Heroes Legacy comes close, weaving those soon-to-be-signature Asian sounds into the framework of an almost-anthemic metallic barnstormer of a song, whilst Ride to Ruin has it’s moments too, but when this album is placed up against competition such as, say, the upcoming Equilibrium album – which bears by comparison an almost embarrassing amount of top draw, ear-friendly mayhem – it just doesn’t stand up to the comparison.
That said, however, if the pagan//folk/death area is your thing, you’ll certainly find this to be an interesting addition to your collection. And maybe next time the band will weave the strands together to come up with something truly up there with the greats of this genre. Let’s hope so!
Wrath of an Empire is out now.