There is so much black metal on the market, I have automatically become horribly skeptical any time a new record comes my way, whether I’m familiar with the band or not. It’s what oversaturation tends to do to an already cynical person.
So it takes more of an effort to sift through all of this stuff to find anything really worth talking about. Anyone who writes about metal for a living can attest to this: Our inboxes are absolutely inundated with stuff. Metal PR folks are ambitious and active, much to their credit. I write about other genres as well, and it sometimes takes some severe arm twisting to get promos out of those folks, but not so with metal reps. But the negative is I sometimes have tons and tons and tons of albums downloaded that I’ve not even come close to approaching. Nice problem to have, right?
Since black metal makes up a nice chunk of that traffic, it seemed a proper time to pull out a couple of things I found noteworthy recently. First up is the fifth album from Vreid, a band I took a seriously liking to some time ago, but they have changed up their sound a bit for their latest opus. The other is Winterus, a band on a label in which I typically find zero interest, who have an interesting debut.
We’ll start with Vreid, who hail from Norway and formed out of the ashes of Windir. Their 2009, World War II-based “Milorg” was one of my favorite metal albums of that year, and that obviously set the stage for my excitement over “V,” an effort I had heard was going to be different than what they’ve put out in the past. Well. Five albums into a run seems like the right time to change up the dynamics, I guess, and my first experience with the record didn’t register much of a reaction. I liked “Milorg” from the first go-around with it, but this one didn’t tell me a whole lot with its first impression. But I also was eager to go back and try again, which is always a good sign. Not every album makes sense the first time you hear it, and if I was one to give up on records when they didn’t work for me the first time, there’d be plenty of stuff in my regular rotation that wouldn’t even be a part of my life – Sunn0))), the latest Amon Amarth, Nadja.
The music on “V” (out on The End) remains black metal at heart, but they branch out to embrace more atmospheric, prog-fueled rock. It’s kind of like they spent a lot of time with Opeth and Katatonia albums while they were making this. For every eruption of thorny fury, such as “Wolverine Bastards” and somewhat Satyricon-like “The Sound of the River,” you get something bathing in atmosphere, with rich synth, clean vocals and sci-fi adventure such as “Fire on the Mountain,” nearly 11-minute “The Other and the Look” and closer “Then We Die,” which is sort of gothy. It’s not what many have come to expect from Vreid, and I’m sure some longtime fans may feel a bit put off by it. Like I said, it didn’t light my world on fire at first, but the more time I spend with it, the more I appreciate “V.” It may not make my year-end Top 10 list, but it’s enjoyable enough and probably will be something I regularly visit.
For more on Vreid, go here: http://www.myspace.com/thepitchblackbrigade
Winterus is a fairly new band, having formed in 2009 in Kalamazoo, Mich., under the name The Ancient. They eventually changed their moniker and now are unleashing their nine-track, oddly put-together “In Carbon Mysticism.” I say it’s oddly constructed because it opens with six studio cuts and ends with three songs recorded live. And the three concluding songs have such a different feel production-wise, it left me a little perplexed. But we’ll get to that. This band is signed to Lifeforce, a label that doesn’t exactly warm my heart. It’s not that they do anything wrong, per se (except house Deadlock, one of the worst bands ever), it’s just that what they release isn’t really my taste. So I’m not criticizing, really. But Winterus is an interesting signing, and a promising one at that. They cite bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room, early In Flames (which I don’t really hear in the music), Immortal, and Enslaved as influences, and their sound is atmospheric black metal. They have gushing lead guitar melodies, decent songwriting chops, and a capable frontman in Christopher Erich Neu (who sounds more menacing on the rawer live tracks).
I really found myself enjoying their guitar work the most, because it really does have a chilling ambiance to it when it’s reaching out into the stars, but it can be savagely menacing when it comes time for thrashing. Sometimes the leads are a bit overpowering and kind of mute out what else is going on, and that can be a bit distracting. But it’s an issue they can address in the future with what they tackle next, and there’s at least an indication that this band is capable of captivating work as they go ahead. The six studio cuts alternate from instrumental songs to tracks with vocals, and that sort of prevents the album from having a truly organic flow. It seems like it was done on purpose, not because the songs flowed together that way. The live songs have a totally different production value, and actually, the lower-fi, dirty finish kind of makes them the more noteworthy of the collection. Not sure why they did it this way, and it does make for some awkwardness, but “Christ Reigns” and “Dusk Unveils” are sinister chunks of soot that I enjoyed the most out of everything on here.
“In Carbon Mysticism” could use some work production-wise, and sometimes the tracks feel like they have more to offer, but just kind of end (“No Rest,” for example). Again, it’s a young band and this is their first full offering, and there is some promise. With better production and more fleshed-out compositions next time around, they could become a serious challenger. Surely, playing these songs live and just getting more experience on a stage, period, should help them become a richer, more capable band. Also, perhaps even studying up further on Wolves in the Throne Room’s and Enslaved’s compositions and what makes them so compelling could help these guys. I’m looking forward to where Winterus are, creatively, in a couple of years. We’ll see if slogging around the country and immersing themselves into their creation helps them become the beast I think they can be.
For more on Winterus, go here: http://www.myspace.com/winterus