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Album Reviews : Stormtide – Wrath Of An Empire

By on December 22, 2016

stormtide wrath of an empireIn the perpetual wait for Wintersun’s Time II record, it seemed difficult to find similar bands in today’s metal climate that matched the uncanny and oriental-flavoured, epic melodic death metal of that band. That was, until Melbourne’s Stormtide appeared with their debut full-length album, Wrath of an Empire. Released in August this year, Stormtide has delivered one of the most consistent and layered Australian metal albums of 2016. A smooth blend of Eastern touches and melodic death metal. Nuanced with epic, symphonic backing choirs, vocalist Taylor Stirrat uses a more rasped vocal style; touching closer to that of the early Gothenburg sound. To his credit, however, this adds further layers to the swathe of music you hear from the opening title track alone.

It wasn’t difficult to find attraction with this record. As a fantasy lover, the wide fields of fancy this album illustrates is evidence that the fantasy genre needn’t always be restricted thematically to that of power metal. Even as someone who adores power metal, it’s clear from the moment you dive into the fantasy genre that it’s appropriately tailored to a number of other metal subgenres, as well. With its dealings in the eternal battle between good vs. evil, black magic, mysticism, and so forth, there have always been themes inherit to the more extreme end of metal, even when it didn’t involve mages and elemental planes.

“As Two Worlds Collide” flows well from the title track, developing the musical landscape further with an anthem that is guaranteed to be a live gem. But the opening to “Dawnsinger” is one of the best introductions to any song I’ve heard this year, telling this awesome fantastical tale in one of the most epic manners possible. Whilst Stirrat’s growled approach isn’t always as smooth as I’d like it to be (sounds strange, I know, but bear with me), it does at times feel offset by the symphonic and ambient layers spread around it. It’s an album that feels as if it would have benefitted further from the use of clean vocals. Helping to better convey this sense of the otherworldly, in moments of atmosphere overlaying the oriental samples, if utilised as it is with vocalists such as Insomnium‘s Niilo Sevänen, it would have served to aid Stirrat’s performance by giving something to compare against. Where Stirrat is let down at times is by the mostly single-range guttural style used. “Conquer the Straits” does push the envelope for aggression, however, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It works well when coupled with the driving rhythm section and the swashbuckling feel of the symphonies that accompany it.

One of this album’s best qualities is that each new song feels as if it’s building upon this notion of a grand quest you’re travelling on. Done so with the rolling beats of Jake Pickering‘s drums and rhythm sections that are designed for headbanging, it always feels like you’re moving forward, so to speak. “Sage of Stars” does this brilliantly and the unexpected touch of a bass solo, courtesy of Simon Fragiotta, builds this wonderful moment of anticipation before the song expands out into a gorgeous, folk-laden finish. “A Heroes Legacy” feels like something pulled straight from the sagas of some bard, retelling the conquests of a great hero lost to the ages. It achieves its purpose, I imagine then, in that sense. However, what did throw me with this song is the jarring keyboard solo at the song’s midway point. Whilst expectant of power metal bands exploring fantasy lyrics, it felt out of place here for a band primarily exploring a rougher edge to their melodeath/symphonic fantasy style. The samples that come in between each song (your standard fare of horses trotting along, the caw of birds, etc.) is a nice touch, but where it excels most is in the intro to “Ride to Ruin” where the song briefly dips into acoustic territory (illustrating a bardic style, no doubt) before the track flows smoothly into melodeath once more. Where this album is itself down a little is that by the last few songs, it feels as if you’ve heard all there is to offer and it starts to become a bit predictable, musically speaking.

“Ascension” sees much of the same, but is an enjoyable, fast-moving track. “The Green Duck” is quite a strong closer to the album, though I don’t for the life of me understand the weird choking sound Stirrat makes at the very end. I’m not sure what the purpose of that was. Away from that, however, “The Green Duck” holds claim to the only song that has a real guitar solo on the record, and the song demonstrates the significant talents of Tyson Richens and Nic Woodhouse.

Wrath of an Empire is not a perfect album, but it is one of the more unexpected, consistent and engaging Australian releases I’ve heard this year. A significant debut for Australian metal. The more Stormtide continue to develop and refine their style, the more I see this band really blossoming into something quite special in our southern metal landscape.

Stream and purchase Wrath of an Empire here: http://metalhellrecs.com

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.