Hailing from Sweden, home to some of the most essential metal, comes Follow The Cipher. For a band just releasing their debut, there's a lot that goes into making Follow the Cipher work. So, before we jump into the meat and potatoes of this how about a little history lesson. Follow the Cipher emerged after guitarist Ken Kängström, whose name may be familiar to some of the Sabaton diehards, decided he needed to make his own band. Prior to this decision, Kängström was helping to write some of the biggest Sabaton songs—one of which is covered on this eponymous record. During auditions for his new band, Kängström heard the beautiful, powerful voice of Linda Toni Grahn and knew instantly she would be the voice of Follow The Cipher. Shortly after Kängström and Grahn were joined by second guitarist Viktor Carlsson, bassist Jonas Aspling, and drummer Karl Löfgren to fill out the ranks.
Follow The Cipher kicks off with “Enter the Cipher” and dives right into the band's style of theatrical and story-driven power metal. The song alone is full of strong riffs. Yet, prevalent keyboard sections appear intermittently to help drive the track’s core—-the vocals and the lyrics. Grahn’s voice is beautiful and so incredibly powerful. Kängström provides backing vocals that contrast well with Grahn's. The former is on her own level vocally, taking the beauty of some of the genre’s best like Floor Jansen (Nightwish) or Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil). Kängström, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of Sonata Arctica’s Toni Kakko. His vocals blend well with an almost similar style of instruments as well. Still, probably the biggest draw of “Enter the Cipher” is the incredibly catchy and sing-along style of the chorus. This approach also appears in other songs like “My Soldier” and “The Rising,” just to name a couple.
There is another side to Follow The Cipher—a side which takes on a much harder and heavier tone. The first time you hear it is on “Valkyria.” The band employs a more hardcore or metalcore style. They change from catchy, fast-paced riffs to slower breakdowns. It's a bit jarring the first couple times when you're not expecting it. The harsher style returns during “A Mind’s Escape” and that tone fuses with the song much better than previous examples. Kängström alternates between harsher, thrash vocals and Grahn's cleans creates a dialogue between the vocals. This is necessary for an album that pushes a story along like "Follow the Cipher" does.
Indeed, this album does have a concept. Follow The Cipher is an album about post-apocalypse and rebirth—an album about rising from the ashes. Kängström stated that the album “has a theme regarding a future of destruction. It has some undertones of seriousness reflecting on how mankind treats our planet." Listening to each of the songs, you'll be able to get the narrative of desperation, sadness, and, in the end, power. The narrative implies that we are reaching this point. We are destroying ourselves. We can also fix ourselves.
The album ends with Follow The Cipher covering Sabaton’s “Carolus Rex” a song any and all Sabaton fans should be more than familiar with. As mentioned before, Kängström had a hand in writing the hit so the band sticks true to the original. While the original has more power behind the vocals—this version is more haunting. Grahn adds a different level of depth to the song. The original gave the impression of a song for a destructive ruler; you can hear the power and terror behind that. Yet, Follow The Cipher's version sounds more like a history lesson. This is a ruler who lived in the past, these are the horrible things he did—feel for his victims. It's interesting how giving the same song to a vocalist with a much different style can shift the tone massively.
Strong storytelling, hard-hitting instrumentals and killer vocals all blend together to create Follow the Cipher. Power metal doesn't have enough new bands pushing to be the top dog these days but Follow the Cipher are definitely making that jump. The band can clearly write great songs with the Sabaton songs on Kängström's resume. Add to it the power of the rest of the band and the backing of Nuclear Blast Records; you have a recipe for success. If you're a fan of Sabaton, Sonata Arctica or early Nightwish, you'd be missing out on way too much by not picking up Follow The Cipher.