Year of Release: 2004
Catalog Number: SR3022
Total Time: 65:40:00
Far From The Madding Crowd is the third in Wuthering Heights' trilogy, and again mixes Celtic and metal together quite seemlessly. It is a lush, heavy, and textured album that is sure to please long time fans and excite new ones. It's very, very good.
New vocalist Nils Patrick Johansson (of Astral Doors) has a voice that has two charateristics. His "high sweet" voice reminds me of what we might hear in late 60s/early 70s mellower, folk-based rock - kind of pinched and back in his throat - and is heard at various points through out the album. But his deeper "medieval metal" voice, which predominates, sometimes makes him sound like a pirate (or Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian). Okay, it's just the way he sings "The road goes on and on" on "The Road Goes Ever On," which actually sounds like he's singing "The road of Beauregard." Given the plethora of characters and places in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, on which this is based (or so I'm told), it would have made perfect sense that there was some road ending in "gard"). If he growled out an "argh, aye matey?" at some point? well, it would seem wholly appropriate (at least in this song). Ah, but don't worry - I like both of them. And if you shake the pirate image (now that I've put it there), you'll be okay for the rest of the album.
Their chugging progressive speed folk metal sound falls somewhere between melodic rock and metal, making Wuthering Heights a band that will appeal to both camps? And Blind Guardian is probably a good comparison, except Johannson can do the "sweet," as well (that doesn't mean whimpy, either, just not as rough). I think Wuthering Heights are an overall more appealing band than Blind Guardian, however. And with all the Scottish elements, there were times when I couldn't help but think of Big Country? and at their folkier moments of Tempest. And, by golly, when I say speed metal, I ain't kidding. As they verily get to near light speeds at time (she said, with only a smidgen of hyperbole). If ever I used the term "fleet fingered" (and I know I have) it can sure be applied to Erik Ravn and Henrik Flyman. But what gets your heart pounding in unnatural rhythms is the drumming and percussion of Morten G Sorenson who, I'm glad to say, seems to have a large drum kit and uses every bit of it. But, lest you think it's all full-bore assault, there's the shimmery intro to "Longing For The Woods Part I: The Wild Children" and brief pastoral passages interspersed. The album opens with the bagpipe led "Gather Ye Wild" - a piece that recalls a Scottish traditional (name escapes me) that Marillion also used for their "Margaret" - and ends with the acoustic guitar piece "The Tapdancer" (which leads into the soloing electric guitar of "Gather Ye Wild (reprise)"). Oh, and there's that Spaghetti western like passage during "The Road Goes Ever On"
And the arrangements are quite intricate, which is a challenge to play at breakneck speed. Even the comically titled "Bad Hobbits Die Hard" is a tour-de-force display of melodic speed metal with Rune Brink, Ravn and Flyman trading leads on keys and guitars respectively, with thundering drums and bass work all driving this reel from hell into overdrive. (Try to see Michael Flatley keep up with this!? and see his feet become bloody and pulpy).
The reason all this works is there are stark dynamic contrasts between the heavy and light, each enhancing the effects of the other. Each song has definition and shape, not just all-out brutal power stuck in one gear (and one note). Into the mix of drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards, we also get bagpipes, violin, flute and banjo - all of which add more depth and texture to the band's music.
I haven't yet decided what my favourite track is, not that I need to pick a favorite, of course. I enjoy each and everyone and don't feel the urge to skip over any. Wuthering Heights offer everything you could want from music and then some - energy, power, emotion, toughness, softness, epic chorus of voices, intimate solo voice, great guitar solos, bass solos, classical touches, folk touches (as mentioned)? "The Bollard" is the heavy ballad, mixing acoustic and electric guitar, flute, crisp percussion? and if you didn't know that the band were Danes, you might think they were Scots or Irish, given the accent the vocals have here.
One helluva album, this is. Look for this to be on many a top 10 lists come year's end (on mine certainly). Highly recommended.
The band is currently scheduled to play ProgPower USA V this September (2004) in Atlanta, GA
Gather Ye Wild (1:46) / The Road Goes Ever On (7:50) / Tree (5:04) / Longing For The Woods Part I: The Wild Children (5:36) / Highland Winds (6:56) / Longing For The Woods Part II: The Ring Of Fire (6:15) / The Bollard (3:29) / Bad Hobbits Die Hard (3:22) / Longing For The Woods Part III: Herne's Prophecy (8:39) / Land Of Olden Glory (6:21) / Lament For L?rien (5:51) / Bonus Track: The Tapdancer /Gather Ye Wild (reprise) (4:08)
Erik Ravn - guitar, bass, keyboards, backing vocals
Henrik Flyman - guitar
Morten G Sorensen - drums, percussion
Nil Patrik Johansson - lead vocals
Rune S Brink - keyboards
Jette Hansen - bagpipe
Lisbeth Sagen - violin
Ulrik Tofte Jespersen - flute
Henrik Svanekaer - banjo
Tommy Hansen - backing vocals
To Travel For Evermore (2002)
Far From The Madding Crowd (2004)
The Shadow Cabinet (2006)
Genre: Progressive-Power Metal