[Artwork by Jan Meininghaus]
One could certainly argue that the writing was on the wall back in 2014 when, three months after releasing album number eight, Black Moon Rising, Falconer announced they would no longer function as a touring band. Now, a full six years later and directly following the news of the long-awaited From a Dying Ember, Falconer have officially decided to call it quits.
Speed folk? Minstrel metal? Speedy, off-broadway minstrel power? Wandering jongleur power lore speed folk balladeer metal?
Yes, all of these things. When one hits play on records like Chapters from a Vale Forlorn, Northwind and Armod, visions of classic power / speed appear just as easily as do images of an elaborate stage production involving buckled shoes, bulging cravats and lords ’n’ ladies behaving badly. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s favorite metal band? QUITE POTENTIALLY. But it’s too late now, because the curtain has closed, decisively. Thankfully, as is customary, we still have the final curtain call…
Principal songwriter / guitarist / chief architect Stefan Weinerhall’s fundamental objective with From a Dying Ember is to “…concentrate on having all Falconer elements present and really make sure that each element got full devotion. For example, the ballad should be as “ballady” as ever, and the folk song should sound as folky as possible, etc. The sole decision to make this the final album actually sparked a new found enthusiasm and engagement for me as a song writer—it was like the final sprint for a long distance runner.”
Longtime followers of the band understand that, while all of Falconer’s material falls under a comparative banner, variations and divergences have certainly emerged between albums, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. Just as Weinerhall indicated, From a Dying Ember embraces the full spectrum of these many faces, so listeners should prepare themselves for everything from the speed and heft of Black Moon Rising, the prancing savoir faire of the stellar debut, and also the majestic…Swedishness of Armod. Not to mention, you know, the unmistakable Falconer hook.
Mathias Blad’s voice has always been a make or break point for Falconer, and it doesn’t take long after hitting play on the opening “Kings and Queens” to hear why: He sounds like a guy who walked into the wrong studio after hoping to land a lead in a production of Les Misérables. “Wh…when do I get to perform my version of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ And why are there so many guitars in here?” He sounds amazing throughout From a Dying Ember, as he always does, but that golden voice really beams during the album’s exceptionally dramatic moments—amidst mellow intros and interludes, alongside the albums many pipes and whistles, and especially on the folkiest numbers (“Bland Sump och Dy” / “Among Swamps and Silt” and the wonderful “Garnets and a Gilded Rose”) and of course the extremely ballady “Rejoice the Adorned.” And okay, yes: It’s pretty easy to pick the accomplished stage actor / singer from the police lineup:
Starting to wonder if Falconer remains a little too theatrical for your liking? That’s a reasonable concern for those overly sensitive about such things. After all, there’s a song called “Rejoice the Adorned” and lyrics involving jesters stealing kings’ scepters and fools prancing into graves on this record. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the greater public would eat up an album like From a Dying Ember (or any Falconer album, for that matter) if it were somehow transformed into a Netflix show.
Here’s a vital reminder that seems appropriate at this juncture: Falconer is ( / was) a very metal band at its core. There is true power behind those big chorus hooks in “Redeem and Repent” and “Fool’s Crusade” (best song on the album), and a serious weight has always loomed behind Karsten Larsson’s drumming, particularly when the pedal meets metal, which happens fairly often throughout the record. Proof in the pudding: The closing “Rapture” (co-written by fellow ex-Mithotyn alum, Karl Beckmann) is the closest Falconer’s ever come to penning a straight-up black metal epic.
The star of the show here, though, is quite conceivably the lead guitar work of Jimmy Hedlund. The decision to bring this fellow aboard back in 2004 has paid off in abundance, and it can be stated with a fair amount of confidence that Hedlund’s soloing up and down From a Dying Ember is the best he’s done to date. Paired up with Weinerhall’s melodic riffing and Magnus Linhardt’s adventurous bass play and it all makes for an extremely melodic voyage that’s stacked to the rafters with familiar Falconer swagger.
In the end, it’s pretty clear who this record is geared toward: the diehards who’ve been in Falconer’s corner for the better part of the last twenty years. Sure, there’s always room for new fans, and it’s not like any of the previous records are in any sort of danger of suddenly morphing into vapor. But everything about the way From a Dying Ember is presented feels wholly devoted to those who’ve been a part of the family for years and years. Fragments from all the different faces of Falconer across all eight full-lengths are pushed under the spotlight, and as indicated by Stefan Weinerhall, these elements are all maximized by design. This sort of approach is quite effective for a swansong because it almost acts as a scrapbook, but it could also impede the release from vaulting to the top of a list for someone whose biggest hope is that it would out-wallop a banger like Black Moon Rising. That’s really not the intention here, though. At least I don’t think. From a Dying Ember is meant to bid a fond farewell to the full existence of Falconer, and in that regard it succeeds in abundance.
Thank you for 20 years of powerful theatrics, fellows. We’ll keep the ghost light lit.