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Album Reviews : Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher

By on July 17, 2018

The brainchild of former Sabaton contributor Ken Kängström, Follow the Cipher present their self-titled debut album after nearly four years in the works. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from the hordes of symphonic power metal bands, Follow the Cipher incorporate disparate elements of metalcore, EDM and industrial music alongside the typical keyboards-and-mezzo-soprano-vocals that define much of post-Nightwish symphonic power metal. Indeed, the Nightwish comparisons are immediately apparent with opening track ‘Enter the Cipher’ showing singer Linda Toni Grahn channelling Storytime-era Annette Olzon of Nightwish, complete with spooky keyboards and a key change up a tone for the second half of the verse. The comparison was so close that I briefly thought male singer Viktor Carlsson was Marco Hietala when his vocal line entered. Whilst I was initially tempted to write this track off as a Nightwish clone, it’s actually really well written and drew me in with catchy songwriting and tight, clean production that balances the band and orchestral elements fairly well. Fantastic as this track is, it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the album stylistically and Follow the Cipher begin to develop their own musical identity across the rest of the album.

‘Valkyria’ is the first example of this, channelling some of the ‘melodic-death-metal-meets-EDM’ style of riffing reminiscent of bands like Blood Stain Child and is mostly connected to the previous track by the female mezzo vocals. A very catchy chorus brings some life to a track that is otherwise a little overdone in terms of the EDM elements and some somewhat out of place metalcore breakdown/harsh vocal segments, but I can see it being a great crowd interaction song when played live. ‘My Soldier’ tries to merge and interchange the symphonic, industrial and electronic elements into something vaguely cohesive through the Kamelot style vocals and verses. It’s at this point that I think the biggest issue with the album becomes clear: the electronic/industrial elements feel mostly out of place and cut through the mix in a way that I personally find unpleasant. This is somewhat disappointing because the symphonic power metal side is well executed and manages to excel beyond being another Nightwish/Kamelot/Sabaton clone. While the electronic elements are certainly unique, they don’t really fit. I understand the desire to be different, as well as the attempt to merge a futuristic war story told through the lyrics with electronic/industrial musical elements, but the execution falls short and I think they’d be better off sticking to the elements of their sound that are integrated well.

This is underscored by moments like the opening to ‘Winterfall’, where symphonic power metal is shown in its full glory with a cheesy, catchy, well-composed opening and guitar melody, leading into a catchy riff. While the song is nothing complicated, it’s well written and catchy, the modern equivalent of an 80s arena-rock anthem and ‘Titan’s Call’ follows in a similar suit. Both the harsh vocals and the electronic elements return on ‘The Rising’ and are integrated somewhat better than previously on the album. ‘A Mind’s Escape’ develops these elements further and is the first track that manages a balance of the two styles. When combined with the Phrygian-tinged main riff to the song and a fantastic chorus, this provides a nice moment of contrast at the perfect time and is somewhat bittersweet in showing how this combination could have worked in other sections of the album. ‘Play with Fire’ showcases a return to the darker elements of symphonic power metal, again channelling Nightwish and Sabaton, with a tasteful inclusion of the synth lead lines and some pretty tight drumming. ‘I Revive’ is catchy, poppy and well written, if unremarkable, while ‘Starlight’ is again somewhat incongruous as a song. It changes from a somewhat typical power metal verse and chorus to a metalcore breakdown/pre-chorus in between that again feels a bit out of place given it doesn’t recur in the song; the individual pieces are done well enough, but don’t fit together especially well. A cover of Sabaton’s ‘Carolus Rex’ (co-written by Kängström) closes out the album, beefed up somewhat by the industrial groove that Follow the Cipher give to it but otherwise is mostly a pretty straight cover.

Ultimately, this is an album that lacks focus above all else and a band that needs a ‘musical editor’ for their style. In an attempt to create a unique musical identity, the band has thrown too many disparate elements together without refining them into a cohesive sound. The sound of the first track never really recurs (except somewhat with ‘Play With Fire’) and the industrial/electronic mix doesn’t solidify properly until about halfway through the album. This is disappointing because there is a lot of potential in this album. Whilst I’m sure Follow the Cipher will have plenty of fans owning to their catchy, well-written symphonic power metal, a more focused sound could propel them even further.

Band: Follow The Cipher
Album: Follow The Cipher
Year: 2018
Genre: Power Metal
Label:  Nuclear Blast Records
Origin: Sweden

About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.