Whispered – Shogunate Macabre
Reviewed by Christopher Foley
I was all set to dislike this from the get go, as from what I’d heard, the guys in Whispered sound a lot like Wintersun, and I don’t really like Wintersun. I can definitely see the comparison, but I’ve found Whispered to be a lot more sincere and a lot less overblown, despite some of their hyper-charged excess. One thing I love about Shogunate Macabre is the Japanese folk influence, as it really gives the music an anime/Shinobi game soundtrack feel. From my perspective, anime is great; and Shinobi III is like, one of the best games ever.
So yeah, the basic template for Whispered’s sound is a blend of the fiddly Finnish melo-death exports a là Children Of Bodom, Ensiferum, and Kalmah, a prominent power metal approach to the guitars, a touch of Rhapsody Of Fire pompadour, and of course the all-exciting, all important Japanese folk elements. This is some cool stuff, and I feel the band boasts an impressive command of its style. Every element is really well integrated, even when they pile on the layers of fluff, because the riffs here smoke.
I just can’t stress how enjoyable the general atmosphere is on Shogunate Macabre, and whilst it may be personal for me, I can’t help feel like I did when I watched Ninja Scroll for the first time (I’ll have to try syncing the two), or when I read/watched Naruto or Basilisk. Either way, I get perfect images of mystical bamboo forests, ancient shrines, and armour-clad anti-heroes throughout, and I can’t say there’s a lot of metal out there which evokes this kind of imagery. The lyrics do a decent job of conveying the theme too, although they’re hardly great. I do like “Jikininki”, though, as the concept of human eating ghosts is just undeniably metal.
Despite my love for the atmosphere and imagery created, it’s the riffs where I find myself completely enamored. Jouni Valjakka and Pyrypekka “Pepe” Ruponen are very impressive players, although I feel they channel their technical prowess and creative flair into punchy riffs as opposed to guitar-porn solo sections. Like I said earlier, there’s a definite power metal prominence, although the deft inclusion of death metal conventions and even the odd nod to black metal are nothing to be sniffed at. This all results in a sound that really defines Whispered. Of course, there are plenty of sugary leads to thrill those who look to this particular style for salivating lead guitar work. Look to “Hold The Sword” for melodies, and look to “One Man’s Burden” or the insane “Unrestrained” for the shred.
As for the vocals, they’re fairly typical of the Finnish melo-death style, with that yappy yowling approach. Although Whispered does change things up with some clean vocals here or there (which are solid), as well as some dramatic Rhapsody Of Fire interlude-style moments. Speaking of changing things up, I’d say the album houses a good deal of variation, as well as a nice dynamic overall. They’re not afraid to look elsewhere for influence either, which I guess is pretty obvious given the amount of Japanese cultural tropes, but man, that Saxophone solo in “Kappa” came straight from left field, and sounds like a nod to Sigh.
The end result is an enjoyable album, which despite its excesses manages to remain endearing. I suppose if the sounds of synthesized traditional Japanese instruments like the ichigenkin or fue mixed in with Finnish melodic death metal seem like a bad idea to you, then you’re probably going to want to look the other way. On the reverse, if that sounds like an impressive mix, then you should seriously give Whispered a look. Definitely up there with the better albums I’ve heard so far this year, and certainly one I’ll revisit: a cracking atmosphere and ace guitar work makes sure of that. Well worth picking up!
4.0 // 5