I’ve been anticipating Sojourner’s sophomore album ‘The Shadowed Road’ ever since it was announced and I’m so glad to be writing about this follow-up since listening to and reviewing their debut release back in 2016. Here we have an album that touches on a number of themes from the Old Ways, of eras long ago in the distant past to the power & influence of nature and of human struggle & adversity.
The opening track is so important in that it provides first impressions to the listener. Well, there are no worries here on ‘Winter’s Slumber’ – this is so good it immediately made its way onto the album’s list of stand-out tracks. Firstly, the song begins with a piano arpeggio playing what will later be recognised as the main motif, accompanied by subtle synth pads. The main piano motif is very memorable – I’ve often caught myself humming and whistling the tune. The opening bars then lead into expansive, panoramic, somewhat ‘Insomnium-esque’ guitar riffs and an enchanting tin whistle melody.
Stand-out track number two has to be ‘Ode to the Sovereign’. Mike & Chloe both perform such a strong, uplifting & defiant rhythm & lead guitar parts, it’s hard not to get swept away in the emotion this song carries with it. Not to rest on one idea or theme across the entire 7 minutes of the track, there are so many layers, transitions and progressions, it’s a joy to simply sit back and let the music wash over you whilst everything unfolds.
Last of the stand-outs is the shortest and most up-tempo track on the album ‘Our Bones Among the Ruins’, which offers up a fine example of melodic, folk-tinged Metal. There is urgency in the guitar and percussion and very good intonation and rhythm in the extreme vocals. There are yet more catchy lead guitar riffs and tin whistle melodies and the piano also performs a beautiful variation of the melody during the final bridge. Another top pick for this album, though it has to be said that I don’t believe there’s a single skippable track on it.
‘Titan’ has such a powerful instrumental undercurrent running through it, accompanied by a strong driving force in the lead guitar melody. A piano and guitar solo play the bridge, which transitions the song into it’s final third and to its eventual crescendo. The song’s lyrics were also guest-written by Anders Jacobsson of Draconian.
‘An Oath Sworn in Sorrow’ is a darker, mournful track, moving between the female vocals with clean bass and guitar backing, then transitioning into Emilio Crespo’s extreme male vocals against a backdrop of harsh driven guitar and Riccardo Floridia’s urgent drumming. The piano arpeggios between the heavier sections once again add a suspenseful tone.
There is a distinct Doom-like quality on ‘Where Lost Hope Lies’, which is fitting given the song’s title. Here we have plenty of rhythmic & tempo variety, from a slow trudge, to a gallop and into a ferocious, intense percussive barrage. The song also features a piano, synth and tin whistle break mid-song, whilst an instrumental section two-thirds in offers a fantastic opportunity to showcase the main lead guitar melody. A great example of atmospheric and technical prowess.
The album ends with title track ‘The Shadowed Road’ and like a final scene before the credits roll, this has the true feel of a ‘grand finale’ piece to close an album. It begins softly and has all the emotional peaks and troughs for dramatic effect and a climactic ending that leaves me feeling as though I’ve just experienced an epic musical adventure … which is exactly what’s just happened. Excellent stuff!
The songwriting is as on-point as before and whilst a handful of their previous compositions lacked sufficient development, the structure throughout this entire album appears to be more carefully considered this time around, taking motifs and expanding on them to produce a progressive, evolving musical journey.
Another note-worthy mention is the quality of the production. I highly commended their previous album on the production, as it had good clarity and natural instrumental separation yet retained its cold, slightly raw edge where needed. On this album there are definitely some warmer tones coming through and the high tones have higher definition & clarity. Anyone who listened to ‘Empires Of Ash’ may remember the issue with the female vocals being too low in the mix, which I later learned the band had agreed with and were frustrated that they couldn’t be altered in time for release. I’m thrilled that this was addressed and isn’t the case on ‘The Shadowed Road’. It has made the experience all the more enjoyable now that all parts can be heard to their full potential within the mix.
‘Empires Of Ash’ received a respectable score for a debut album and here ‘The Shadowed Road’ is deserving of its high scoring. I hope Sojourer are proud of what they’ve achieved on this release because I’m incredibly proud for them – an amazing outing for sure!