FER DE LANCE – The Hyperborean (2022)REVIEW

In their wake they draw the ocean flowing ’round the Earth — set upon a voyage away from the illness of the ever-unjust civilization of man, away from their gold-guarding griffins and marbled pillars into the haven of hope cast upon the unknown. Salvation is never assured on the path of the stars beaming northwards through the frozen sea. Whether or not our heroes find tragedian parable, or, the author simply muses within in the destructive power of the elements, their journey is for the sake of striking out and taking on a better world envisioned. Naming them by their names in temple resonant hymn Chicago, Illinois-based epic heavy/doom metal quintet Fer De Lance set us as one with the crew manning the Mariner‘s journey to a realm beyond the breath of Boreas‘ reach on their beautifully realized debut full-length album. ‘The Hyperborean‘ is a tale fit for the theatres and mosaics of ancient Delos, a different sort of epic heavy metal album against the grain which yet bears the exact right keep it true spirit of traditional heavy metal in mind.

Fer De Lance was set into motion as early as 2019 by vocalist/guitarist MP whom is best known for his work in sorta 90’s styled power metal band Moros Nyx alongside bassist and original drummer Rüsty (Hitter, Midnight Dice, Hoove Child Records) with a member of Smoulder filling out the original trio before they’d release the unassuming yet well-loved ‘Colossus‘ EP in 2020, just as pandemia spilled the world over. I’d enjoyed that record quite a bit as it’d presented their basal conceptual idyll somewhere between epic Quorthonian stride and the bombast of mid-70’s Rainbow, eh, by way of Atlantean Kodex. I don’t know if folks had flocked to ’em right away due to the state of the world at the time but an ensemble was eventually formed and the line-up shifted a bit to account for growth. By all accounts the theme of ‘The Hyperborean‘ came to MP in the midst of an truly isolating 2021 wintry season, aiming to not only spin a grounding tale of persistence but also to invoke the aura of the cold-killing yet celestial beauty of the frozen sea. Thought the style of this debut lands close to the original conception’s promise, those core traits are amplified to a certainly professional bigger-and-better status, the sound design and performances naturally following suit.

Much as I’d like to compare Fer De Lance‘s epic heavy metal cadence to the majestic feeling provided by Atlantean Kodex directly they are not so drastically shaped by German power metal’s most classic sense of melodic reveal. I’d rather point to a group like Realmbuilder for their patiently stated sojourning, the expressive always-belting express of Argus, or even the folkish tinge of certain Solstice releases for sake of their bigger picture being rooted in some additional United States mid-80’s power metal movement. Of course the conversation should be rightfully addended and dominated by their invocation of ‘Hammerheart‘ and Bathory influenced records such as Scald‘s debut, wherein a better fit for their comparative tonality is something like earlier ‘Resound the Horn‘-era DoomSword in the post-‘Atlantis Rising‘ world of epic heavy metal resurgence in the European underground. Of course the major caveat to this train of thought is that ‘The Hyperborean‘ is (perhaps by proxy) skeletally modeled after classic heavy rock epics and as such delivers its weight with a sort of cinematically charged, bardic tradition in mind. They’ve ‘sold’ the tale just as much as they’ve told it, as it were, and though the result will read as fittingly set in the realm of elite epic heavy metal Fer De Lance have made some room for themselves and begun to craft their own niche with this recording.

The thematic dévoilement of ‘The Hyperborean‘ naturally comes up front and within the celestial enormity of intro “Aurora Borealis” as it functionally foreshadows “The Mariner” with its Greco-Roman melodic motif. “The Mariner” not only provides a grand entrance on the part of all performers involved but sources the vital impetus of the plot (via the main character’s motivation) setting the tone of the album with some truly surprising, confident command of their narrative realm. Though I’ve heard quite a few epic heavy metal records with a bit of folkish or some manner of extended use of acoustic guitars for effect, this piece goes above and beyond in characterizing Fer De Lance‘s ‘ready apparent notion of setting and the result is an album which should effectively immerse most listeners within moments. “Ad Bestias” then follows in further justifying the greater journey with the roar of the colosseum and its beasts, MP‘s belting of “There is nothing here for me here…” coinciding with the first subtle introduction of extreme metal influenced rhythms on the album, speedier pagan/folk metal timbre being the suggestion on my part. We find this manifesting, if not too briefly, on “Arctic Winds” over on Side B as the band dives into a sort of blackened Ancient Rites circa ‘Dim Carcosa‘ rush at various points (~5:10 minutes being my favorite moment) within the piece an excitingly in-and-out of character piece for the band, and stands out as proper development of their sound for that reason. I’d appreciate if the album had just a few more bursts of aggression, or, extreme metal influenced hits for the sake of adding even more character and dramatism to their overall movement but anything less subtle might’ve appeared somewhat forced or conflicting with the narrative. They’ve gone there with a certain finesse, anyhow.

“Northern Skies” reprises the acoustic guitar riddled expressivity of Side A‘s opener in marvel of the northern lights, a moment which is nigh religious in exposition and clearly one of the more defining songs on the running order. In recommunicating the greater stylistic concept of Fer De Lance, an amorphous blend of epic heavy/folk metal with an faint extreme metallic edge, they’ve also provided a soaring plateau for the Mariner‘s journey to reap its spiritual reward. Of course, fair enough, you’ve probably stuck around this long with ‘The Hyperborean‘ with some love for the sort of ‘old school’ power/heavy metal level craft of vocal melody and its layering, they’re pouring it on thick at this point in a long, fairly simply set moment of revelation. The closer, grand finale, and title track finally gives us our “One Rode to Asa Bay” moment in stellarly form complete with growls, wailing leads, and skull-warming acoustic melodies to accompany its most grand verses. An appropriately moving send-off for our damned and now forever dreaming heroes.

Of course you could surface-level enjoy Fer De Lance‘s debut full-length as in “Nice, one of those epic heavy metal things“, give it a ride a few times and have a great time but I’d suggest with some considerable enthusiasm that this is a rarity of a debut which rewards a good stare at its imagery, a pour over its lyrics, and some rapt attention paid to the scenes set throughout their grand introductory epic. Heavy metal is at its most valuable and inspired when telling a story built with great personal meaning and backed with some manner of stylistic mastery — ‘The Hyperborean‘ is a finest example of pouring it on thick in service to a story well worth howling out with over the top, emphatic register. ‘Colossus‘ probably should’ve had me buckling up for this inevitability but, yeah, I continue to be blown away by this group’s already signature stride, pristine audio-visual presentation, and heartfully delivered parable. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (88/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Hyperborean
LABEL(S):Cruz Del Sur Music
RELEASE DATE:April 22nd, 2022

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