Thousand Swords

This Finnish band should have called themselves ‘Children of Ronin’. They blend symphonic power metal with death vocals and – here’s something new – classical Japanese music. It’s like Children of Bodom meets The Last Samurai, and their debut release, Thousand Swords, is one of the most fresh and exciting albums I’ve heard in awhile.

After the rousing, cinematic intro, Whispered charges into battle with the epic title track. Galloping guitars on the frontlines, backed up by ranks of stringed Japanese instruments and screaming choirs – and then the bloodshed really begins, with a monstrous, churning riff that’s like a whirling blur of samurai blades. The Children of Bodom influence here is unmistakable – in fact, it’s a pretty spot-on imitation, except for the fact that Whispered have crafted an experience here that’s more bombastic and unique than anything Alexi Laiho and company have been able to do for a long time.

Follow-up “Faceless” is another excellent track, one of my favorites on the album. Thrashy riffs churn over a percussive Japanese stringed rhythm, with a snarling vocal performance that sounds like every boss battle from Onimusha Warlords come to life. My favorite moment comes halfway through, where traditional Japanese music swells up and envelops you like cherry blossoms swirling on the breeze. Big nod to Perttu Vänskä (of symphonic/grind duo Fist in Fetus) for his work on the Japanese instrumentation and the album’s production – it all sounds amazing.

“Of Honor” and “Fear Never Within” are similar samurai melodeath/thrash attacks (Norther and Kalmah come to mind), while an epic like “Wrath of Heaven” returns to the galloping power metal rhythms of Thousand Swords. Whispered also slow down for more meditative moments on the album’s two longest cuts, “Dead Cold Inside” and the epic closer, “Blade in the Snow.” “Snow” is particularly notable for its reliance on a Japanese-sounding theme for its main guitar melody – something I would have loved to have heard more of throughout some of the other tracks, which would have just been traditional melodeath/thrash if you stripped out the Japanese orchestration.

Just to echo that further, there are plenty of moments throughout Thousand Swords that really aren’t Japanese at all – too many fiddle-dee-dee keyboard solos that could have come right off a Warmen or Symphony X release. I would have much rather the band filled those interludes with more Japanese symphonics and instrumentation, as those moments are the more memorable on the album.

And one more nitpick while I’m at it: Why Whispered? Doesn’t exactly communicate the band’s Japanese shtick. Neither did their original name, Zealot. Personally I think a name like Katana, Shuriken, Shogun or even just Ronin would have been much cooler and evocative.

Still, none of this is any reason to commit seppuku over – Thousand Swords is still a tremendously entertaining album, and I’ve been playing the crap out of it. Undoubtedly, a big part of this is because The Last Samurai and Okami are two of my favorite movie/videogame scores of all time, but it’s also because Whispered have delivered something new and novel. Yes, neoclassical noodling mixed with power metal may not be fresh anymore, but the transportive, triumphant Japanese angle certainly makes it so. And for that, Whispered are to be honored.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
April 6th, 2010


  1. Commented by: faust666

    I thought this was an annoying gimmicky, COB clone. Glad you enjoyed it though.

  2. Commented by: Apollyon

    Heard their ‘Wrath Of Heaven’ CD when it made the rounds some time ago, and I remember thinking that the setting was promising as hell but the overall execution was terrible.

    While Thousand Swords seems tons better (and the guys can definitely play), unfortunately, the theme is yet again abused, waiting to be properly utilized. They just don’t seem to embrace it all with the respect the setting deserves.

    Considering the rich history & culture, you’d think that there were a gazillion ways to marry it with metal and exploit it all in an interesting manner — but the band seems to take the easiest route by using the theme in such a simple way it feels almost as if its only goal was simply to separate Whispered from the rest of Bodom’s children, rather than work the theme into the music in a meaningful way. Just like faust666 said, it’s only a gimmick and that’s a shame (albeit “Blade in the Snow” has some good vibes going on.)

  3. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    I might have to check this out

  4. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Persefone’s new (ish) album “Shin Ken” has a Japanese/Samurai theme that seems well interwoven to proggy/Opethy death metal.

  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    yeah I know it’s a gimmick but I didn’t care. I am a sucker for this theme I guess. hope they develop a little more of their own sound next go round and not so much of the CoBisms.

  6. Commented by: Apollyon

    I suppose it’s hard for me to take the album for what it is, as I’m still waiting for a band that’ll take aspects from the Japanese culture and incorporate those to the actual music in a truly personal and passionate way. Whether it be playing around with the movie scores from the 70s and early 80s, toying with the Kabuki theatrics (and ignoring visual kei) or just having a Japanese alternative for Primordial, who’d scream about the past/present misfortunes faced by, say, the burakumin. That’d be quite something.

  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    start that band then!

  8. Commented by: Apollyon

    If only I had any real musicality in me. Wouldn’t have to be a bitter staffer on a heavy metal site ;)

  9. Commented by: Infinite Death

    NO WAY, they released a full CD? I’ll be checking this out. Like Apollyon and faust666 said, though, I’m REALLY anticipating the epochal utilization of Japanese culture in metal that somebody is bound to pull off stunningly in due time; it will be spectacular, but who will pull it off?

  10. Commented by: Infinite Death

    “envelops you like cherry blossoms swirling on the breeze.”

    You caught my weak spot; now I HAVE to hear this, haha.

  11. Commented by: Infinite Death

    Triple comment…anyway upon listening to the full album I’m rather disappointed. It’s basically Norther with Far Eastern instrumentation, and I’m not too keen on Norther. Oh well.

  12. Commented by: Morppi

    Personally I have a small amount of complaints about this album. The style is bombastic, yes. Its epic as hell – kicking ass over most symphonic outings here and there, even wrestling with Dimmu and Cradle in my most humble oppinion. However, I do find myself wishing that there was less wankery, more dynamics and for fucks sake, more guitar. Can’t really get over the fact that the guitar has been given the proverbial shaft on this album. Its quiet as hell, well in the back and sounds like something of Nightwish’s catalogue. Except their first few albums had tons more ball in the guitar sound department. Tends drag down the metal elements here, which, when one picks up a metal album, is never something one wants to find. Symphonics are fun but this crosses the line.

  13. Commented by: Cynicgods

    I have explored Japan’s culture in every way imaginable since I’m very much intrigued by it. When it comes to music, they’re mostly a pop, grindcore and noise haven. The closest they get to Primordial’s sound and concept is Sigh. Read: not very close at all. Here’s hoping an immense Japanese talent reads this and decides to start a band like that.

  14. Commented by: Kraken

    Keep in mind these guys are barely over 20 years old and most of the songs on the album are old stuff, written 3-5 years ago! Neither Dream Theater, Symphony X, Dimmu Borgir, Nightwish, Children of Bodom or Metallica were this mature on their debut albums. Considering that, Thousand Swords is one hell of an accomplishment. And even if for example Blindfold sounds a lot like CoB, IMO CoB hasn’t lately come up with many songs as good as that one. These guys can compete with the best already, if they can get rid of carbon copying their idols in the future they’ll be scary. At the moment they’re just interesting, though.

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