A Fortress Called Home

rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. A Forest Called Home
02. Songs Upon Wine-Stained Tongues
03. Almosttown
04. Impossible Tower
05. Love's Souvenir
06. Architect of Creation
07. Portrait of Us
08. Emerald Necklace
09. Where Sorrows Bear My Name
10. No Place for Us
11. House of Lies
12. The Old Hurt of Being Left Behind

World domination might not have been achieved quite yet, but nobody sensible could fault SEVEN SPIRES for their creative efforts to date. Ever since the Boston fantasists released their "Solveig" debut in 2017, it has been obvious that they were operating on a higher level than most of their supposed peers. Symphonic metal takes multiple forms these days, and the smart money is generally on a more overtly modern take than SEVEN SPIRES are inclined to embrace, but this band have taken the traditional tenets of the genre — its theatricality, its storyteller's instinct, its virtuoso bombast — and wrangled something fresh and vital from them. Both "Emerald Seas" (2020) and "Gods of Debauchery" (2021) were hugely impressive feats of metallic opulence, with depths and subtleties galore, and the absurdly versatile powerhouse of vocalist Adrienne Cowan delivering some of the sharpest melodies (and nastiest growls) modern metal has had to offer in recent times. Eventually, one tends to think, SEVEN SPIRES will be righteously huge.

Until then, fans of aggressively over-the-top, melodic metal extravaganzas will be more than appropriately served by "A Fortress Called Home". Three years on from "Gods of Debauchery", SEVEN SPIRES have made one major change, in that their fourth album is presented as a much more personal work than any of its predecessors. Reflected in lyrics that eschew the expected fantasy concepts in favor of a purple miasma of melancholic metaphor, this is the band's most mature and immersive creation to date. Pleasingly, that shift in thematic focus has not dented their ability to take the fucking roof off with zealous abandon. Arguably the most explosive and extreme record to bear the SEVEN SPIRES name, "A Fortress Called Home" has several maximalist symphonic moments that will have listeners gripping their sofas, just in case the roof caves in. Again, no one could accuse this band of not putting in the necessary effort. Meanwhile, there are several performances by Cowan that are so elegant and pure that listeners of a sensitive disposition may struggle to hold it together. In particular, "Emerald Necklace" is a mid-album oasis of beauty and calm, with a vocal that could disarm a knife-wielding Tasmanian devil.

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the multi-layered splendor of what SEVEN SPIRES do, but "A Fortress Called Home" is shrewdly paced and, at its heart, an album of huge, incisive and memorable songs. Sometimes those songs veer off on a sumptuous, orchestrally augmented tangent, and sometimes they kick open the gates of hell and sprint towards the flames, but there is always a deeply satisfying melodic payoff lurking just around the corner.

Dripping with gothic grimness but as euphoric as KAMELOT in their "Epica" pomp, "Songs Upon Wine-Stained Tongues" is a whirlwind of blastbeats and prog-power athleticism, anchored by chorus melodies that emerge like bolts of light from the churning melee. "Love's Souvenir" begins as a noirish, jazzy torch song, with Cowan eloquently navigating its cinematic sweep, before all hell breaks loose with an apocalyptic deluge of blastbeats, operatic bellowing and a shape-shifting undercarriage of muscular, prog metal syncopation. Somewhat against the odds, SEVEN SPIRES still manage to squeeze in at least two killer melodic hooks, and the song's final crescendo and creepy coda are just magical.

Perhaps most thrilling of all is the closing "The Old Hurt of Being Left Behind". A newly finessed showcase for the Bostonites' multi-subgenre sound, it crams a ridiculous amount of much moody, blackened grandeur and uplifting, power metal heroism into its seven, perpetually evolving minutes. A largely flawless production brings out every last detail with pinpoint clarity, and from the perfect, poignant pop-metal moment of "Almosttown" to the punishing, melo-death uproar of "No Place For Us", SEVEN SPIRES' fourth album is every bit as impressive as expected, and perhaps even better than that.

Author: Dom Lawson
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