The very first death metal record that I ever purchased was Children of Bodom’s Follow the Reaper. To a fan of thrash and power metal, it was the perfect introduction to the world of extreme metal, and will likely have a special place in my black heart until the day it stops beating. However, despite the brilliance of their first 3 releases, Children of Bodom’s music took a swift nosedive in quality towards run-of-the-mill death metal mediocrity and has only begun to recover in the last few years, perhaps begging the question: What if the exact opposite had happened? Instead of stripping away their unique power metal elements, what if band had expanded upon them even further, resulting in some sort of deformed lovechild of Rhapsody of Fire and In Flames? Though I’m not positive such a question was in dire need of an answer, Stormtide are here to provide just that—and actually end up doing so in surprisingly competent fashion.
Easily my favorite part of this job is the opportunity to listen to bands I’ve never heard of from labels that I didn’t even know existed, and Stormtide checks both boxes. However, though I tend to doubt that “Metal Hell Records” is a particularly wealthy or prestigious label, debut LP Wrath of an Empire is produced surprisingly well, not an easy feat for a style like symphonic death metal (see: Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Labyrinth). In fact, the whole album sounds professional and rock-solid, even the orchestral elements, so it passes all the preliminary tests of quality with flying colors.
I’ve always been of the mindset that an album should open with its strongest song, and Wrath of an Empire contains perhaps the best example I’ve heard all year; its title track is superb in every sense of the word and lays an excellent foundation for the rest of the album. The keyboard melodies are addictive and immersive, yet the song generally manages to retain a dark, Bodom-esque atmosphere. However, small cracks immediately begin to form in the sturdy foundation; “As Worlds Collide” comes across as little more than an attempt to recreate its predecessor (albeit with more orchestral elements), and though it’s not poor per se—it’s actually pretty solid—hearing a band repeat themselves so blatantly after just two songs is concerning. Things start to truly derail by the third track, though, as Dawnsinger follows largely the exact same formula as before and ends on a bizarre, out-of-place note with the sound of seagulls calling in the wind. To make matters worse, this is followed by the dreadfully cheesy “Conquer the Straits,” probably the album’s worst song, and at this point all seems lost. Simply put, imagine the worst Rhapsody of Fire song ever recorded dubbed with death metal vocals—unlike the rest of the album, this odd marriage of genres falls flat on its face, rife with overdone and cliché symphonic portions and meandering songwriting.
But at the moment it appears all is lost, “Sage of Stars” roars to life and breathes new life into Wrath of an Empire. Marking a return to the melodic, keyboard-centric style of the title track, it’s a damn good song and sounds even better after the past 15 minutes of mediocrity; Hell, it even has a bass solo, one of the album’s best moments. Shockingly, the quality tracks just keep coming, and the back half never once falters, even switching things up a bit with the shorter, folk-inspired “Ride to Ruin.” Wrath of an Empire ends on an especially great note with “The Green Duck,” which rivals even the opening title track in terms of quality and marks the conclusion of a remarkable turnaround in quality.
I’m finding it a bit difficult to draw an appropriate conclusion for an album like this; about half of it is brilliant, while the remaining portion struggles to even keep its head above water. Its bookends are legitimately two of the better songs I’ve heard all year, yet it’s hard to give Wrath of an Empire a stellar recommendation due to its glaring inconsistency and odd song placement. The fact of the matter is that Stormtide’s music is exponentially more effective the band sticks to the keyboard-driven melodeath of early Children of Bodom and keeps the orchestral elements at a minimum; expanding that sound into something more unique and varied could perhaps result in something truly special, but for the time being Stormtide isn’t a must-listen band by any stretch. There’s nothing here that’s outright terrible, but the differences in quality between songs is massive; granted, this isn’t particularly rare when concerning debut albums, but the point still stands. However, despite its many flaws, Wrath of an Empire boasts a handful of superb tracks and could easily serve as a solid foundation for a productive career.
Taylor Stirrat – Vocals Nic Woodhouse – Rhythm/Lead guitar Reuben Stone – Keyboard Jake Pickering – Drums Simon Fragiotta – Bass Tyson Richens – Rhythm/Lead guitar