In what seems a dire reversal of fortune, Balflare was cut back to a four piece on their third album, Sleeping Hollow. I suppose no one important was lost in this transition, since the precision rhythm section of Odaira and Matsuzaki remained in place, and the song writer, guitarist and keyboardist Syuta Hashimoto. Eijin Kawazoe also returns to handle the vocals, but the band must have felt some loss at losing about 1/3rd of its lineup. Regardless, the style here is a fairly level continuation of the prior album Tempest, only I felt a pang of regret that the band plays in a much gentler, bolder fashion than the excellent, dark but beautiful atmosphere of the sophomore.
What they do accomplish is to once again perfectly capture their cover image in the music. This is loud, but cold melodic power metal with a lot of sadness, similar aesthetically to the icy lake and untended shrine you see before you. The band can still hash out a raging, power number at a good speed, but some of the album seems to brood, with a lot of straight pianos and sad shifts in the atmospheric keyboard accompaniment. This gives a mixed reaction, because while the band are more than competent at the slower material, it's simply not all that desirable, and thus I felt songs like "Pray for Rosalia" and "Celestial Winter" waltzing sluggishly into my ear canals and then disappearing just moments after exposure. "Celestial Winter" has a half decent vocal melody in the verses, while the guitars chug along to the scintillating hints of synthesizer, but it's too simple and predictable.
It's fortunate that these do not represent the bulk of Sleeping Hollow, and we still have a good number of attention grabbers like "The Dunes", which whips along like an outtake from the last record Tempest, breaking into glorious arches of stabbing melody. "The Eyes of the Pharaoh" is another 9+ minute epic like the title track from the debut, but this time it's better written to capture the mystique of the Egyptian climate (which I might add, makes a strange concept to the wintry vibe on the rest of the album) in the clutches of melodic power. "Powerslave" this is not, but it does invoke the same, cheesy representation of the subject matter. Other thrillers include "Waking in Silence" and "The Day Falls", both of which excel at the European styled momentum the band has always been adapting to their perspective.
In the end, I felt Sleeping Hollow was perhaps the least consistent of Balflare's efforts to date, and thus I enjoyed it slightly less than even Thousands of Winters of Flames. There is some very competent musicianship here, and I still enjoy the writing and Kawazoe's ability to mesh with the walls of glittering notation fronted by Hashimoto, but its best moments feel like the thrills we've already experienced from the band, and the less interesting tracks drag it under just enough that I find myself skipping them often. "The Dunes" is certainly one of the band's best songs, though; both Eizo and the riffing are wonderful. This album might be worth checking out if you are far into the sounds of Concerto Moon, Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, and Galneryus, but everyone else might is better served by staying away, or starting with Tempest if its your first exposure.
Verdict: Win [7/10]