Monday, August 5, 2013

Windfall - Tales Of An Ordinary Life (2013)

Is it possible that, after so many bands coming into and out of our collections, that we've pigeon holed all female fronted bands? So far this year, we've seen our share of operatic singers, yes. But we've seen female vocalists go into realms they've long been absent from. Windfall, a five piece band from Italy, aren't the typical female fronted metal band, and they certainly don't fit into the mold we've made for them. They manage to combine some classic metal sounds, with modern symphonic sensibilities. And with a roster that is overflowing with talent, it is no surprise that they've returned with a new full length that may surprise you, or at least make you take notice. A crystal clear mix is not the beginning and end of the good news, though it does factor in heavily to what makes this album a standout in the most crowded metal genre in the world today. With a dynamic frontwoman, a rhythm section not to be trifled with, and a pair of virtuosos on guitar and keyboard respectively, Windfall's "Tales Of An Ordinary Life" is anything but.

A strong keyboard presence helps to launch the opener from 0 to 60, and "Crush" wastes no time getting there. While the typical trade off between guitar and keyboard is inevitable, it is the bass that manages to dart in and out of the mix like a ninja, giving a sense of depth to the song. Bassist Marco Patracchini starts early and often, sometimes adding even more low end to the gallop of the drums. Together with drummer Matteo Bresci, the rhythm section has no flaws in their armor, keeping everything in order. That leaves vocalist Francesca Tedeschi to be the focal point, something her voice allows her to do with great ease. There is an accessibility to her range that becomes important, as she gravitates more to classic metal tones than operatic highs and lows. It makes songs like "Rage, Love & Sex" seem more frank and honest, even though the subject matter seems like an odd match for the style of music at hand. But the alternating chugging and shredding of guitarist Lorenzo Nardi makes it work. As Tedeschi repeatedly chants "fuck me," you may have a different feeling altogether. Bizarre title aside, "Dad Show" is an exhibition for the band, each member playing at their absolute best. The massive guitar distortion becomes the foundation of the mix, while that repeated drum gallop returns to hammer home any loose nails. Nardi even unleashes a solo in the latter stages that he'd obviously been saving for a special occasion.

Not to be confused with the Mastodon album of the same name, "The Hunter" is a signature track for Windfall, led by the keyboard prowess of Tommaso Buzzegoli. They find a home here, somewhere between gothic and symphonic metal, that suits their abilities. Patracchini is, once again, the man to watch as his bass lines carve through the song like a knife. The bridge section, bolstered by another flowing solo, stands as an album highlight. There is an interesting dynamic building b this point, where there seems to be a clear transition from track to track, allowing each individual band member to get a piece of the spotlight. It creates balance, something that "Revenge" displays, and fosters a level of comfort within the album. No one overpowers anyone else, instead elevating each other to new heights. The guitar melody here is excellent, but pushed further by the rhythm section and their technical focus. That explosiveness is evident on "Life Challenge," with the charge being led by Tedeschi. her voice has a unique quality to it, one that lies in her refusal to hold back. There are no moments where you question her effort or strength, as she puts all of herself into every word, every lyric. As a result, you get the same effect from the rest of the band, playing each note as if it could be their last. The thunderous second half of the track is sure to stand out, to both new and old fans alike, thanks in part to the smooth interlude.

Without overstating the point, "Live Forever" is the only track on the album that doesn't seem to hit home, but not for lack of effort. The pieces are all there, but it lacks something that would drag it out of the filler realm. For his part, Nardi gives a powerhouse performance, his surgically precise fret work keeping things moving in a steady direction. And even with a track that doesn't hold up to the standard of the album, there is no loss of momentum, no chance of a stumble and fall. In fact, they come out of it better than before, jumping with both feet into the wild "Tower Of Forgotten Memories." They seem to push themselves here, both musically and creatively. Beyond that, they are pushing the limits of a mix that was already packed like a phone full of college kids. But with nary a string nor stick out of place or sounding less than perfect, it speaks to the job the band did in planning, preparing, and recording the album itself. Tedeschi let's her voice explore it's range here, something she could use to wow any label exec. The finale is a shift of gears, and a well executed one at that. There is a smooth groove to the opening stages of "Windfall," one that might not have been fully appreciated until now. But there is also a harder edge that has now fully blossomed. Put the two together, and you have what could be the track that becomes synonymous with the name.

In what may be a news flash for some of us, making a metal album isn't easy. There is a lot of pain and sacrifice that goes into crafting a disc that represents you. For Windfall, we can only imagine how much of their life experiences, dreams and nightmares, went into the making of this album. But the end result is something they should not only be proud of, but we, as listeners, should be impressed by. They've ironed out any issues you could have imagined, and given you a taste of classic metal done with a modern female twist. Their biggest victory, though, is being a band that has tremendous pieces, but an even greater whole. While every member has talents well beyond what you hear on a single piece of plastic, they are even more incredible when playing off of one another. They are links in a chain, attached to one another in a loop that never bends or breaks. Any one weakness in the loop would be disastrous; but there is no wear and tear, no rust to be found. "Tales Of An Ordinary Life" is anything but ordinary, and neither is Windfall


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