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At The Heart Of Wintervale

Sweden Country of Origin: Sweden

At The Heart Of Wintervale
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Type: Full-Length
Release Date: January 20th, 2023
Genre: Power, Symphonic
1. Twilight Force
2. At The Heart Of Wintervale
3. Dragonborn
4. Highlands Of The Elder Dragon
5. Skyknights Of Aldaria
6. A Familiar Memory
7. Sunlight Knight
8. The Last Crystal Bearer


Review by Lynxie on July 6, 2023.

Ah well, I've been wary of Twilight Force since their fucked-up sophomore effort, but I have waaaay too many friends from the power metal side who adore them for me to ignore them entirely. So when one of them sent me 'Dragonborn' for a listen, I was so charmed by the whimsical tune I finally decided to give Twilight Force another chance. Now, At The Heart Of Wintervale is not a bad album per se, but it's still much too Disney at certain points. Yet if Twilight Force had been a C- tier band by my scales before, they would probably merit a C+ or maybe even a B- now; if they could keep up the production of their previous album and cut out on the longer songs they would indeed have some redemption values. Though Rhapsody and their fellow dragon-riding symphopower metallers will never occupy that place in my heart.

I may have never really quite forgiven Twilight Force for becoming the best definition of Disney metal, but I've come to accept their cheesiness and maybe even grudgingly respect their consistency at maintaining that over-the-top image of theirs. I'm a fantasy nerd like the next power metal fan at any rate, I may even make a beeline for this album purely for the ice-dragon on the cover had it not been for Twilight Force's reputation. Still, why not fly across the sky on the wings of dreams? Or do whatever 'Dragonborn' was talking about. Twilight Force also did a retelling of Blackwald's story as well, which was only briefly accounted for by the warlock himself on the spoken Epilogue before. Some memories, but at least this musical take is far better that that cringe-worthy narrative; I don't care how distraught and ancient the man had managed to sound before - the drama here on 'The Last Crystal Bearer' was actually amusing. Nonetheless, I would've been happier if it was the only 10-min track on the release.

Musically speaking, I think of Twilight Force as a Rhapsody clone, but minus the neoclassical tendencies and piles on with the pomposity. Of course, this take is not entirely unenjoyable, especially on shorter tracks like 'Sunlight Knight' or the title track: the Swedes can push out a bright, blistering symphopower anthem like the next SPM band. I was indeed very impressed by the first two tracks. They had really brought out the glory of Twilight Force's debut with that huge hook and trilling guitars while retaining the more polished edge of the likes of 'Queen Of Eternity' or 'Dawn Of The Dragonstar'. Then on tracks like 'Dragonborn' and 'Sunlight Knight' the spirit of the band has taken an even more lighthearted, more whimsical turn. The silly intro on 'Dragonborn' was already hilariously cheesy, and don't think I didn't notice the carnival music sample before 'Sunlight Knight's solo. I snorted at how they followed the sample with a ''FIGHT!'' and a shredding solo as well. 'A Familiar Memory' makes for an intriguing interlude too: I'm pretty sure I've heard that tune when I was walking through the tutorial of a fantasy-themed RPG; is that why the memory is supposed to be familiar?

But with Twilight Force's longer songs my attention tends to waver halfway as the obligatory orchestral bridges dropped in. The Disney metal side just ran amok during those times. It does not help that 'Highlands Of The Elder Dragon' is basically 'There And Back Again' come again. Obviously, choirs and orchestras are only good on a small scale for this band. I mean, 'Skyknights Of Aldaria' was definitely more grandiose than either of the 10-min numbers with the huge choir in the chorus yet losing none of its vigor to length. Blade of 'Immortal Steel' is still the only good long epic Twilight Force has ever done.

Overall this album is better for its shorter play-time: I can only ingest so much flower metal in one sitting. Though musically speaking this is probably a step down from their last release, blame 'Highlands Of The Elder Dragon'. Nevertheless, I'm not as wary as afore, I just hope the guitars and drum won't go any quieter and Conti keeps on doing his job - the man's got quite a set of pipes and a damn impressive range.

Highlights: 'At The Heart Of Wintervale', 'Dragonborn'

Rating: 6.2 out of 10

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Review by Michael on February 23, 2023.

Holy crap, do they sound Italian!!! That was my first thought when I heard the new Twilight Force album At The Heart Of Vintervale for the first time. Although the name told me something, I had to read up on the guys first. Well, they come from Sweden, but at least they have Allyon (aka Alessandro Conti) an Italian as a singer, who could be well known to the inclined symphonic metal fan from Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. So I was not so wrong with my first assessment.

Also regarding the album cover there are some parallels to the early works of Rhapsody to recognize, a dragon freed from chains and a lonely rider, we have already had something like that....

Musically, the sextet also goes in the same direction, but the music is much more clearly permeated by bombastic (Hollywood) melodies, which makes the album an incredibly kitschy affair. Also the use of bells and the in parts very wintry arrangements let the kitsch just drip from the snow-covered hills of Wintervale. But the whole thing is so incredibly kitschy and cheerful that even if you are in an orcish mood, you somehow have to sway along and the music still makes you smile and see little elves with red-and-white-striped hats running around everywhere.

A song like 'Dragonborn' spreads such an unbelievable positive energy and radiates pure joy of life with all the guitars and keyboard arrangements and especially the enchanting vocallines, that you can't blame the band for all this pomp. Apart from that, the song (like many others) could actually have sprung from a fantasy film. This intention becomes especially clear with the intro of the following song 'Highlands Of The Elder Dragon'. Here you are beamed directly into a fantasy movie by the melancholic piano and the spoken words. Also the rest of the piece is very epic with the string instruments and the piano and by the many twists also quite very surprising and entertaining. 'Sunlight Knight' is perhaps the piece that comes closest to old Rhapsody albums, since here equally bombastic choirs and similar guitar sounds are used. Just a bit more bombastic. With 'The Last Crystal Bearer' the guys have saved quite a chunk for the end. The 10-minute song is built very opera-like, with spoken word passages and dramatic vocal lines. Also the instruments create a great arc of tension, which makes the piece one of the highlights on the album and here and there "Lord of the Rings' ' reminiscences flash.

Even if the album is, as already said, incredibly cheesy, At The Heart Of Vintervale is an early highlight in the field of symphonic metal that sets the bar pretty high for upcoming albums in this area.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 elves

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