The Shadow Cabinet
2/22/2008 - Review by: Etiam
Tally another point for Denmark's burgeoning metal scene. It appears as though Wuthering Heights have finally come of age. Though always promising, this power metal troupe has struggled with inconsistency and an unsteady roster over the past decade. Now, with their fullest line-up to date (six members) and a fresh lyrical concept, Wuthering Heights present 'The Shadow Cabinet', their most compelling and complete album to date.
In large part, this is due to the vocals of Nils Patrik Johansson, who has improved vastly since his last outing with Wuthering Heights on 2003's 'Far From the Maddening Crowd'. He's certainly had enough practice, anyway-since that year Nils has appeared on ten releases, and this one may be his best. In the interim, his voice has smoothed out considerably and become much richer, making the favorable comparisons some have made between him and Dio more truthful now than ever.
Still, for all the members' involvements in other projects (literally dozens, between those past and present), 'The Shadow Cabinet' was obviously recorded with great care and attention to detail. As the main lyricist and songwriter, the most credit for this is due to Erik Ravn, who is also the band's sole remaining founder. As Erik has matured over the years, so has the rest of the band around him, and 'The Shadow Cabinet' boasts superlative performances from everyone involved.
Another significant change here is the changing role of the band's characteristic folk influences. More so than on past albums, these passages have been integrated into the band's more traditional power metal side, which allows them to race along at tremendous speeds without a hitch. While the folk element was always one of Wuthering Height's most distinctive features, its lowered profile here is actually a blessing, as it allows them to tighten up their riffing and structures. A number of these songs are still quite lengthy, but they are no longer bogged down by unnecessary fluff and the startling pace set by opener 'Demon Desire' is maintained throughout. Though each song changes tempo, texture, and often its key throughout, each finds time to open up to full throttle and charge along like prime Gamma Ray, replete with gang-vocal sing-alongs. This is not to say that the folk influence is eliminated, however. During the slower passages in particular, Ravn liberally integrates Celtic cadences into his riffs, and Nils's voice takes on a more wily timbre of a storyteller, rather than a leather-clad, leather-lunged rock god.
It is uncommon for a folk-inspired metal band to be able to separate the two genres with so much clarity, and even harder to blend them without compromising the innate complexity of both. 'The Shadow Cabinet' does this extremely well, and after only a few stutters out of the gate its many changes in instrumentation and style (from grandiose keyboard flourishes to acoustic jigs) feel natural. Brimming with ideas and wholeheartedly fun, 'The Shadow Cabinet' is a breakthrough success.
Addendum: The U.S. release also includes a live bonus disc of the group performing at 2004's ProgPower that fans of the band will no doubt appreciate. ProgPower is well-known for its high-fidelity productions and this is no exception.
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