According to Welsh folklore, Cŵn Annwn (probably not pronounced the way you’re currently trying to say it) were spectral hounds from the mythical otherworld of Annwn. The creatures were dubbed “hounds of hell” by Christians, although Annwn was actually less of an infernal landscape full of pitchforks and torture, and more of a heavenly afterlife of eternal youth and plenty. Oh well. Christians gonna Christian.
Situated around 4,000 miles away from any form of Welsh life, real or mythical, Minnesotan five-piece Cwn Annwn are currently making a suitably noisy racket on the US power metal circuit. Formed in 1997, the independently released Patron Saint is the band’s fourth album (fifth if you include Blood of the Djinn, the lengthy five tracker from 2008) and with any luck, will soon see them propelled towards bigger and better things.
Opening with the robust title track, it’s clear from the outset that vocalist Julie Stelmaszewski is the star of the show here, her vocals soaring dominantly above the jagged riffs of guitarists Neil James and Harry Rostovtsev, and the punchy rhythm section of drummer Jake Stone and bassist Mike Strohkirch.
‘Outlander’ follows next, a dramatic, fast-paced track bristling with sharp riffs, and harbouring a superb chorus. The portentous ‘It Will Come From the Sea’ finds Stelmaszewski not sounding too dissimilar to the late Jill Janus of Huntress, the song backed by some deep, guttural vocals from bassist Strohkirch.
With it’s stabbing, angular riffs, ‘God of Needles’ takes a slightly different direction, sounding more like a fortress of power metal besieged by an army of Djent. Heading back to more familiar territory, ‘Brita’s Vale’ and ‘Course of Obliteration’ sound modern but also contain a clear Iron Maiden influence, the latter owing a debt to sadly defunct Canadian act 3 Inches of Blood while also featuring an instantly memorable chorus.
The downbeat grind of ‘Salient Ground’ is injected with flurries of speed, and a melody not a million miles away from Queensryche’s ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ and ‘Caught Somewhere in Time’ by Iron Maiden, while the fast and thrashy closer ‘Ice From the Sun’ (based on a bizarre, low budget fantasy horror film from 1999) plays a vocal switcheroo, finding Stelmaszewski performing in a strictly backup capacity while Strohkirch takes the lead.
With a lean running time of just under thirty-five minutes, Patron Saint never has the chance to outstay its welcome and is just a great sounding metal album which leaves you wanting more.
7 / 10