This isn't the first time I've professed my love for Scandinavian metal, mostly due to that area's predominance of huge, cinematic production styles and lyrical themes drawing from ancient folklore and dark fantasy. It probably won't be the last time I mention that either. One of my more enjoyable finds from the mighty Norse lands is Norwegian five-man power metal outfit Tellus Requiem, whose style ventures beyond solid melodies and anthemic refrains (although they do handle those very well) and into the neoclassical arrangements, long-form songwriting and grand-scale storytelling that are progressive metal's stock in trade. Like many prog-metal bands on both sides of the Atlantic, Tellus Requiem draws strength from key members' backgrounds in classical music, often composing on an operatic scale in the mode of Dream Theater or Symphony X, but never resorting to orchestral passages as a mere backdrop for the metal elements, a habit pretty common in European symphonic metal.
Formed in 2007 by guitarist Stig Nergård, Tellus Requiem turned out a promising self-titled debut in 2010, and soon signed to Nightmare Records, who then released their latest ten-track epic Invictus. The style and scope are very consistent across both albums, serving as two chapters in an ongoing saga – much like the Norse myth-based “Ring Cycle” operas of Richard Wagner, whom the band cites as one of their influences. Like the band's name, which in Latin loosely translates as “Death Mass for the Earth” (a requiem is an ancient funeral rite often accompanied by dramatic music), the songs are also reminiscent of a majestic ceremony, cast with shadows of impending doom.
The instrumental intro "Ab Aeterno" sells that concept very well, as does the ominous, brooding cut "Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath,” another reference to the Latin death mass), which closes out the album. In between, we get a hefty slab of blazing, tight power metal, solid and emotionally pure higher-range clean vocals from Ben Rodgers, and damn incredible keyboard work from Anders Sundbø, who with his classical training is one of the standard-bearers for the band's sound – pretty impressive for a genre which usually leans more toward highly technical guitar work. All the proof you need is in "Red Horizon,” which you can hear in this performance clip:
The intensity and power of that piece is fairly well-matched in following cut "Eden Burns,” which contains a breathtaking piano & guitar passage, as well as the equally massive title track, which takes all of those components and cranks them to 11. The musical recipe is pretty consistent across the album, which is just fine by me (you know what they say about fixing something that ain't broke), although they do add some heavier variations on "Sands Of Gold,” one of the most progressive-leaning songs along with "Reflections Remain,” both of which are long, dark and sprawling epics with constant shifts in speed, tempo, tone and mood befitting a mini-symphony. Lighter, smoother melodic touches come into play in "Twilight Hour" and the more down-tempo "Tranquility,” while "Redemption" is a thematic continuation of the moody ballad-like track “Frontiers” from the band's debut album.
Both straight-up power metal and progressive metal tend to polarize listeners – some find the technical wizardry of the former to be overly showy at the expense of emotional purity, while some find the latter to be rambling and unfocused. But when those two come together in proper balance, their excesses are ironed out and the real emotions come through. Tellus Requiem have found that balance in Invictus, and a lot of it comes from allowing all the instruments – including the keyboards – to carry equal weight. This empowers the whole group, from the drums all the way up to the vocals, and the end product is pretty exciting.