In which Spear continues his spiraling descent into weebdom.
For the uninitiated, Whispered are a Finnish band who play a fusion of Swedish melodeath and Japanese folk music. I know some of you are now spamming the dedicated NOPE macro key you’ve set up for everything that I write about, but I’m not letting you off the hook that easily. Their first album, Thousand Swords, was decent but not great. Most of its songs were on the long side and didn’t have many moments that truly stood out. The Japanese elements were generally implemented well, however. Thousand Swords feels more like a proof-of-concept in this way; it showed that the idea works, even if it wasn’t necessarily fully fleshed out at the time. The band seemed to realize this too, as their follow-up album, Shogunate Macabre, was a drastic improvement in every way. Everything from the riffs and the solos to the drums and the orchestrations were incredibly catchy and creative, the vocals no longer sounded sloppy, and the metal parts of the music now carried as much Japanese flavor as the folk parts. It was bar-none my favorite album of 2014, so it goes without saying that I’ve held some pretty high expectations for the band’s continuing endeavors.
So how does album number three, Metsutan – Songs of the Void, stack up against its predecessors? Does it surpass the high bar set by Shogunate Macabre, or does it fall short? It’s hard to say that it’s definitively “better” (different personal tastes and all that), but I believe that this is their strongest work to date. Whispered experiment a lot with their songwriting on Metsutan, a welcome change from the formulaic (albeit extremely catchy) song structure of their sophomore effort. The music is far less predictable and more complex as well; it’s the album’s greatest strength, leading to some exciting and unexpected twists on their established sound.
Opening instrumental “Chi no Odori” sets the stage for an intense and dramatic trip through feudal Japan, segueing directly into the upbeat “Strike!” This should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect on this album; intense riffing interwoven with choirs and shamisen (among other traditional instruments), triumphant leads with a strong Eastern bent, and an unstoppable rhythm section, with just a sprinkling of funky time signatures to keep you on your toes. Whispered sounds tighter than they’ve ever been on Metsutan, fearlessly barreling forward at breakneck speed without missing a step. “Exile of the Floating World” and “Kensei” build on the themes established on “Strike,” while “Sakura Omen” gives it a slightly darker twist. None of them feel overly similar or blend together, a trap that oh so many “gimmick” bands fall into.
I had the hardest time formulating an opinion on the next two songs, “Our Voice Shall Be Heard” and “Tsukiakari.” Normally, I’d gloss over them and focus on the rest of the music, but they’re extremely important, together forming the keystone of the album. To be clear, they are both very good songs and fit very well next to each other in the album; they are also the biggest departure from Whispered’s normal sound, resembling nothing they’ve written before in terms of pacing and atmosphere. Both of them are lilting mid-tempo ballads (for lack of a better word) with eerie interludes in the middle and provide some of the most powerful moments on the album outside of the closing track. My trepidation concerning these songs stems from the fact that I feel like they lost some of their identity on these two. The band has always drawn comparisons to Ensiferum, which I have always written off as folk metal fans being some combination of drunk and stupid; this is the first time I actually thought it was an apt comparison (“Cry For the Earth Bounds” in particular). Ultimately, these songs won me over just by being really damn good in spite of sacrificing some of their samurai motif.
Fortunately, the album closes out very strong. A second instrumental gives way to a short-but-sweet melodeath rager with a ridiculously catchy chorus, followed by the huge closing track “Bloodred Shores of Enoshima.” I won’t overload you with details, but I will say that it serves as a testament to how far the band has come since their early days. It’s very well refined despite its length, a far cry from the unsure meandering of the longer songs on Thousand Swords. It is undoubtedly the album’s- and the band’s- finest moment.
In case my flagrant gushing hasn’t already made it clear, I love this album. Everything comes together so well; the performances are spot-on, the band and the orchestrations interplay instead of existing as separate entities, and the mix gives everyone equal spotlight. Their image is pulled off flawlessly, proving to be much more than a simple gimmick that tries to cover up mediocre music. Whispered are masters of their craft; Metsutan isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but you’d be very hard pressed to find a better melodeath album in recent years. For that, I give it: