To say the release of Wuthering Heights‘ fifth record has been highly anticipated amongst their fans would be akin to saying Hasselhoff “sorta likes to drink his dinner” (and his breakfast…and second breakfast, elevenses, and lunch). A prodigious understatement, to say the least. The band’s previous record, 2006’s The Shadow Cabinet, was a masterpiece of knotty progressive power metal with a seemingly unending display of varying textures, moods and plots. Yet despite this bold statement, some diehards still prefer 2004’s Far From the Maddening Crowd, so let that be your barometer for the collective excitement level here.
But as is often the case with greatly anticipated works that become ostensibly delayed-delayed!!-DELAYED, eagerness has slowly shifted closer toward apprehension, due to the scant amount of updates over the long 4-year wait. Alas, the veil has finally been lifted for power metal probing eyes, and the result…
Well, let’s just say the results are good, but also mildly disappointing. Particularly considering how long this bird’s been cooking in the oven.
Now, before I get hauled off and shillelagh’d by Wuthering devotees, let me reiterate the part where I just said “the results are good.” Many of the things we love hearing on Wuthering Heights records are still prominent here: tight, superbly crafted (and played) power metal that zig-zags between dark and light, harsh and sing-songy, epic and mellow; bright, shimmery leads that blister on one end of the spectrum and lift to the stratosphere on the other; and the incredibly earnest, unmistakable vocal delivery from one of the genre’s finest warblers, Nils Patrik Johansson (Astral Doors, Lion’s Share). All these elements are at the ready and firing throughout the whole of Salt. But, contrary to the preceding two records, this work takes more than just a few spins before snaring you in the net.
One discernible hiccup on Salt is the lack of guest musicians – something that would be tolerable if the album didn’t seem to call for varied instrumentation. I’m not sure if Erik Ravn decided on a more rudimentary route for this particular excursion, or if capable hands simply weren’t available, but there are times here, particularly toward the end of the record, where measures sound as if reliance is put on a keyboard effect to bring flourishes of violin or flute to the speakers. Damn near heresy, considering how Ravn made sure such embellishments were provided by authentic performers in the past. “Tears” commits to a flimsy electronic violin half-way through, and “Weather the Storm” and the wholly unsatisfying sea-ditty “Water of Life” plop artificial flute in their midst. Praise Poseidon’s Beard they still had Tommy Hansen available for accordion, though, or the sea shanty end of Salt would have been two additional shades less drinkable.
Despite my various quibbles, I’d still call Salt one of 2010’s more ambitious power metal records. Gratification hits early and particularly strong with the cleverly penned, contagiously bouncy “The Desperate Poet,” and with the album’s strongest melding of classic Wuthering Heights with nautical themes, “The Mad Sailor.” And despite the more straight-forward approach to the midpoint of the album, the band’s inclination for balls-out epic wailing is more than enough to carry interest up to the epic, 16+ minute closer “Lost at Sea.”
In the end, it’s worth emphasizing that we finally have a new Wuthering Heights record to sink our teeth into. And even if it’s not quite as extravagant or grandiose as previous works, it’s still a satisfying enough journey that whips most of the other contenders in the competition.