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Okay, so I will admit that the prospect of an acoustic only Winterfylleth album didn't exactly fill me with joy. The pagan, black metallers have long existed on the fringes of my radar but never somehow managed to make much more than a fleeting blip historically.
The fact is that this is one of the most heartfelt records I have listened to in quite a while. I have more than once found myself stood stock still, completely captivated by the atmospheric beauty of what I have heard on this record. The album opens up with "The Shepherd" a track which starts with a rendering of the Christopher Marlowe poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and this is an indication of what you are in for as a listener. There's not one bit of BM on this record and it doesn't need any in any way, shape or form. "The Hallowing of Heirdom" is more folk than anything even remotely resembling metal. Imagine if Fleet Foxes dropped the irritation of that constant "hippy" vibe and showed some actual capable instrumentation also and you are loosely on the right track.
There's variety to it which is as unexpected as it is welcome and it means you never get bored despite the record clocking in at 55 mins plus. Over 12 tracks you are actually taken on a journey that stays with you long afterwards, which is what all good journeys should do, be memorable for all the right reasons. But don't get me wrong, it isn't OTT on the emotion front, that's not the strength on display here. No, this is one of the most balanced releases in my recent memory. It's like a picture album where the first picture is given to you (that cover) and then it takes over your head with numerous captures of the very essence of the land itself. You can smell the pine of the trees, the earthy tones of the fields and almost feel the breeze on your face even though you are sat in your front room with all the windows and doors shut.
As usual with Winterfylleth there's a theme of the old ways being lost, the album title itself harking back to the importance of "heirdom" as we all exist with clear ties back to people stretching far back into history but seem to rarely give that much thought. "The Hallowing of Heirdom" seems a fitting tribute to the ways of yore regardless.
I invite you to come with me to a time before 2008. It may surprise you to learn that at this point, Circle II Circle was actually a pretty damn good band. They did eventually become prog Godsmack, as history will record with bitter regret chronicling the storied tale of Savatage. For now, however, let’s make like boomers and complain about how things used to be better.
Burden of Truth sounds like sentimentalism, at times. It feels rather like Skid Row filtered through Phantom of the Opera, in that characteristically Trans-Siberian Orchestra fashion. The difference, though, is that Circle II Circle crank the technicality and bite of their music significantly higher than TSO’s comfortable bombast. It’s certainly a little saccharine, but performed with such conviction and talent as to make that nearly irrelevant.
Zak Stevens’ voice is vital to this whole undertaking. His overbored bass resonates unstoppably through every song, an unmistakably mature vocal delivery that dignifies even the album’s most banal emotional turns (“How can we learn to live as one…” “I walked by the church and saw the children, and the world through their eyes…”). Moreover, it is very identifiably American, and that’s the biggest selling point of this album. It’s worth noting he layers very nicely with his backing vocalists. The “The Black” and title track have particularly good harmonizing.
One might be tempted to snicker at some of these lyrics and the melodies. How antiquated the notion of melodic music without dizzying rhythmic changes or production magic out the ass. Yet, the sheer power behind it all is impossible to deny. The piano line on “Heal Me” would be insufferable if it didn’t drag you in immediately. Despite the sugar content, Burden of Truth is largely fat-free. It doesn’t fall victim to most metal tropes, including the prevalence of vibrato. It’s endearing too, in a sort of Andie McDowell in Five Weddings and a Funeral kind of way, or perhaps of Joy Davidson in Shadowlands – very American.
The opening to Revelations? Badass. The crunchy riffs of A Matter of Time? Some slick shit. The entirety of Evermore? One of the most masterfully tight, pointed pieces of prog metal out there that still pounds away at the ears like a cannon blast. If you wanted an aspirational American soundtrack, this is it. Songs for an endearing everyman with more behind his ears than you might guess.
No matter how much you dislike Donald Trump, Ministry's overt and constant attack on his administration doesn't mean that "AmeriKKKant" is actually a good album. I mean it isn't entirely a terrible album either but you will struggle to remember of of it after even a couple of listens, beyond the endless stream of frankly confusing and almost barrage like snippets of Trump audio bites that is, they are the only really memorable part.
It isn't really an industrial metal album either. It sound s more like a nu-metal band got sealed into a steel drum with their instruments and got rolled down a big hill. It doesn't come across as particular caustic or aggressive though, just a bit of a racket made in a Republican nightmare.
Not long into the record the message you are constantly force-fed just gets bloating. There's no rescue or reprise from it as the pace of the album is so inconsistent and frankly repetitive you have nothing else of worth to focus on as a distraction. I mean you can be really angry and pissed off and still transfer it to audio without being boring (Body Count "Bloodlust" is a great recent example of this).
Even if Donald Trump is listening, the message of this record is that it is too mediocre a response to the true horror of his administration. The facepalm on the cover of the album is unfortuantely all too indicative of the quality of the record itself.
2 horns out 5
When I was 14 I witnessed the video on Raw Power TV to the title track from Judas Priest's "Painkiller" album. "Painkiller" blew me the fuck away! I mean, what was not to love? Thunderous drums, a mix of gruff and shrill vocal antics and duelling lead guitars. I went straight out that afternoon and bought the album on blasted it for consecutive days for the next 3 months. All in all, not a bad gateway album to the band.
The real draw of "Painkiller" was the memorability of the experience was that one run through the record left seared scorch marks across your brain. For years after I could run through the entire album in my head note for note. "Firepower" is exactly the same. A mere 24 hours after it coming into my life and I can sing along with the lyrics, air guitar to near note perfection and bash my fingers bloody to the drums on my desktop. It's full of anthemic choruses and simple yet effective hooks that just pull you in.
Try and not headbang to any of the opening six tracks, if you can achieve it you are almost certainly dead inside. Try not to make ridiculous gurning faces to any of the lead work on here and again if you succeed, check your pulse! Sad though it maybe that Glenn has confirmed his Parkinson's is now progressed enough to stop him from touring there is no doubt that he can exchange blows, pound for pound with Faulkner and barely break a sweat.
There's no point doing a track by track description here, if you have read the review to this point you'll get the idea. Criticisms? It is too long, by about 2 or maybe 3 tracks. However, you can easily suffer the dips in the quality here and there as you are rarely away from some truly great music. It does get a little samey at times too but that's forgivable to me as nobody is looking to reinvent any wheels here this may cause issue with the longevity of the record though for me. Right now though I love it, I fucking love it.
One of my favourite urban myths is that you will go blind if you masterbate too much you will go blind. Listening to Portal might make you go blind as you ears frantically take resource from your brain that was needed for mundane tasks such as vision and bladder control as they try to cope with the relentless auditory assault of "ION", however pulling your pud won't affect your eyesight boys. Science bit over, on with the review.
"ION" seems instantly more refined than previous outings. Don't get me wrong here, there's no slick production values been applied and there isn't any venture into clean vocals for example. It just seems that this time around things are more calculated. "Phreqs" is like being attacked by a swarm of wasps, as chaotic as it seems there's some well thought out structure to the attack to maximise the impact. One of the only criticisms I could draw against Portal of old was that sometimes the mental factor was up over 11 and things did tend to get lost. "Vexovoid" remedied this a lot with its more "Horror" approach and "ION" seems to take that on a notch further combining dark alchemy and atmospheres perfectly. The build of "Crone" for example is full of creeping dread and menace, finally arriving and proving to be as ghastly as I had hoped it would.
For all the scientific intimation of the cover things are still more on the experimental as opposed to technical side of death metal. There's still that pit of the stomach sensation of being dragged into some fathomless void by the spiralling darkness of those fucking guitars and the taunting evil of those drums - they are not just about all out assault folks. The layers do genuinely seem to be being applied with more structure this time around and the instrumentation is used better than ever to produce real atmosphere. Favourite release of 2018 so far.
5 horns out 5