Dwarrowdelf - The Fallen Leaves

Artist: Dwarrowdelf

Album Title: The Fallen Leaves

Label: Northern Silence Productions

Date of Release: 2 February 2024

My increased presence on social media since the turn of the year has been hugely positive on the whole, not just for the fun interaction I am experiencing with old friends and new acquaintances alike, but because of the sudden influx of recommendations from all directions. The latest is ‘The Fallen Leaves’ by Dwarrowdelf. I’d never heard the name before and now that I have, I can’t shake the feeling that the name was born through overhearing a three-year-old trying to take a stab at some word or other found in a fantasy novel. As it so happens, though, it’s a reference to Lord Of The Rings and an alternative name for the underground kingdom of Dwarves more commonly known as Khazad-dûm or Moria. I should’ve known that. Damn.

Regardless of its origins, the name remains a touch humorous to me. But my mirth swiftly falls away when I make three quick-fire discoveries. Firstly, that Dwarrowdelf is not a band, but an individual, namely Tom O’Dell. Secondly, that Tom is from these fair shores, residing on the south coast. And thirdly, that the music itself is really rather marvellous. And that’s the best bit of all, isn’t it?

I’ve seen the music of Dwarrowdelf referred to as everything from atmospheric black metal to black/death, to epic folk metal, to Tolkein metal. To be fair, most of these references are bang on the money, too. However, you could even add power metal to the list of descriptors, because there’s definitely a touch of this genre to be heard as well. Take a look at the front cover, of a knight on horseback battling a fire-breathing dragon and it’s fair to say you’ll immediately know if this album is for you, regardless of whatever genre description you ultimately choose to apply.

Somewhat surprisingly, ‘The Fallen Leaves’ is the fifth full-length release under the Dwarrowdelf moniker over a period of just seven years, O’Dell having formed the ‘band’ in 2017. That’s pretty impressive productivity in anyone’s language, especially as our protagonist at the centre of this tale is responsible for everything music related. Referred to as a multi-instrumentalist, I’d have liked a little more information because I’m yet to decide whether or not the drums are programmed or organic, for example, as I fluctuate back and forth. Mind you, I’m not sure that knowing the answer would either aid or hinder my enjoyment quite frankly.

What does hinder my enjoyment just a touch, though, is the fact that the guitars and bass in particular feel like they are a little too far in the background, not quite distinguishable enough and thus lacking a punch at times. This is especially evident when the synths and keyboards loom large within the compositions. It’s almost as if they are the most important aspect of the music over and above all else. Given that this can be a facet of more atmospheric black metal in general, I fully suspect that this was the overall effect that O’Dell was going for. If I’m being completely honest, though, I’d have liked the mix to be just a little different.

It’s unlike me to find fault with an album, and certainly first up, so it is with great relief that I can revert much more to type and spend the rest of the review waxing lyrical about all the positives on offer, for there are many.

Dwarrowdelf - The Fallen Leaves

Comprised of just seven tracks, but with a run-time of a little shy of 45 minutes, ‘The Fallen Leaves’ finds an almost perfect balance between making the music epic yet fully digestible. I’ve seen albums within the atmospheric black metal sphere last for hours, but this record is a much pithier affair and, to my mind, is all the stronger for it.

Naturally, the album opens with an introductory piece, in this case a sub-three-minute instrumental, ‘Within The Ashes, The Ember Still Burns’, that’s dominated by atmospheric synths and simple melody that slowly, tentatively builds into something quite grandiose and heroic-sounding. The melodies that start out within the opener continue into ‘The Journey To Dawn’ which sees Dwarrowdelf unleashing the metallic side of the music for the first time. O’Dell’s vocals here are rasping growls that I really like, whilst the frequent changes in pace from mid-tempo to full-on fast staccato riffs and blastbeats adds a sense of urgency and dynamism to what remains a very melodic composition with a properly majestic otherworldly feel to it. It may be nearly seven minutes in length, but its infectious nature means that it skips along and is finished before I know it.

Up next is one of my personal favourites, in the form of ‘To Dust, We All Return’. It starts off in melancholy fashion with a gorgeous melody, almost waltz-like in some ways. But this is also the track on ‘The Fallen Leaves’ where the aggressive muscles of Dwarrowdelf are properly flexed, as the guitar work at various points comes through more clearly to deliver chunky death metal riffs and dark atmosphere. Clean vocals also play an important part within this Jekyll & Hyde track that flits from heavy and foreboding, to soaring, solemn melody and back again within the blink of an eye. And my goodness, it really works well, especially the unexpected momentary blast and scream right at the death.

The great thing about ‘The Fallen Leaves’ is that every single one of these seven tracks is so very good. They all contain addictive melody, they all have a wonderful fantasy quality, they all keep me entertained from beginning to end, and what started out as ‘yup, this is pretty good’ has turned into ‘ooh, yes, I really like this album’. Far from becoming bored, I’m enjoying every spin through more than the last.

The one track that I feel deserves a bit of an extra nod, however, is ‘Deliverance’. Alongside ‘To Dust, We All return’, it is a favourite and with good reason. The acoustic guitar intro for a start is beautiful, whilst the build-up around it is great. As it unfolds, I love the galloping rhythms, the blend of melodic death metal and cold black metal atmosphere, as well as the rousing a capella choral vocal section that is then punctuated by an impossibly high-pitched power metal wailing vocal in the background. The way in which it switches from calm, dreamy melody to full throttle attack is really well executed, too, culminating in a fantastic composition. That said, the triumphant and majestic closing title track is brilliant too, ending the album in fittingly epic style.

The more I listen to ‘The Fallen Leaves’, the less I mind the production values of which I was initially critical. I still wish that there was sometimes a bit more oomph to the guitars but so captivating and memorable is the music on offer, that this misgiving ultimately pales into insignificance. If you are looking for an album that transports you to another world, has charm and melody in abundance, is both extreme and gentle, and has the power to get right under your skin, then ‘The Fallen Leaves’ by the one-man-band Dwarrowdelf is the one for you. This is atmospheric black metal of an incredibly high standard and should not be overlooked for one moment. Check it out right now – the Dwarves of Middle Earth demand it.

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

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