I remember listening to Mare Nostrum, Italian symphonic black metal band Stormlord‘s fourth album, in 2009 and being blown away by how one band could combine such extreme metal with such great melodies and atmospheres.Of course, this type of mixture is something Dimmu Borgir have been brewing up as early as 1994, but there’s just a kind of dramatic aspect that Italian bands are great at portraying, be it black metal, death metal or power metal. Precisely, Stormlord strike a balance between those genres with a focus on atmospheric black metal; not in a Summoning kind of way, but leaning heavy on keyboards and solemn melodies to facilitate the new album’s lyrical contents concerning, as always, ancient Roman myths, but also fictional topics like Conan.
With Far, Stormlord are continuing where they left off with 2013’s Hesperia. Hell, that was a long time ago. Following the development going from the band’s debut Supreme Art Of War in 1999 through masterpieces like 2004’s The Gorgon Cult, Far is 2019’s evidence of Stormlord‘s growth and evolution as songwriters. Far could easily be described as more complex, heavier and elaborate or sophisticated than the previous record, something that can be said of most of the Italian’s records. Not many bands continue to exhibit their progress like Stormlord do; there is nothing stagnant about this band.
Songs like the first single “Leviathan” – the album’s opening track – and title track “Far” prove just that. Insane high-energy, facemelting double bass and riffs alternate with epic, stomping, keyboard-driven symphonic parts culminating in a huge chorus. Above all, Cristiano Borchi flexible voice dominates the compositions, sometimes close to Dani Filth levels of screaming, sometimes the deepest black metal grunts, sometimes with the assistance of guitarist Gianpaolo Caprino as clean and epic as if to challenge the dramaturgy of bands like Virgin Steele or Rhapsody.
What can be considered one of the cleanest, snappiest productions among this year’s releases adds to the quality of the record. Mastered by Simone Mularoni at Domination Studios in San Marino, Far has some of the sweetest production I’ve heard on a black metal record in a long time. No instrument, no vocal part, and none of the sprawling orchestration is neglected and the listener’s ears are always directed, almost guided, by the mixing and mastering.
Once again, Stormlord do not hold back with complex compositions, yet end up with a catchy, challenging black metal experience. In my eyes, the Italians long surpassed the band closest to their style, Dimmu Borgir. Stormlord continue to prove to evolve and be relevant with musical pieces to which you can listen many times and still discover new aspects. The Italian’s unbridled creativity has to be experienced to understand it – once you get into Far, or any other albums of the band’s discography for that matter, you won’t be able to stop listening.