Album review: FORLORN HOPE – Over The Hills

FORLORN HOPE - Over The Hills

[Release date 26.07.19]

Inspired and informed by the Peninsular War of 1807-1814 when “master of Europe” Napoleon faced six years of hostility from Britain, Spain and Portugal. ‘Over The Hills’ doesn’t compromise. While some albums work on two levels and can be enjoyed separate from the “concept” and out of context, each song here chronicles some aspect of this historical period.

Merseyside band Forlorn Hope – the name comes from those combatants who engaged in the siege warfare – have evidently researched their subject and a lyric sheet is essential.

But listeners may find Chris Simpson’s vocals far too literal and too dominant in the mix. I wonder whether Chris actually started out in a folk/rock band or perhaps wants to be in one.  Like a failing general he gets little help from his fellow band-mates and the lack of rousing backing vocals is noticeable throughout.

Musically, there’s a lot going on but with the emphasis on vocals/lyrics there isn’t much space for extended instrumentation. Jade McKenna’s keyboards are impressive throughout but overall there is a distinct lack of subtlety, light and shade.

In this context, the acoustic ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ (borrowing lyrics by folkie John Tams) shows what can be achieved. One or two moody instrumentals may have also provided essential respite from the rigours of battle.

Stylistically, the album switches from galloping sub-Maiden (‘Rifles’) to rampant power metal (the Sabaton-lite ‘Die Hard’).

Many listeners will be worn out by ‘Man Of Secrets, Man Of Honour’ when Simpson cranks into vocal overdrive. Unfortunately this track also reveals the album’s “iffy” production values with an annoyingly compressed cymbal sound and generally muddy delivery.

It’s an ambitious and creditable package but, sadly, is likely to appeal more to students of Napoleonic history – as a novelty – than any serious music fan. ***

Review by David Randall

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