‘Winter’, the fourth album by French doom band Northwinds is a peculiar collection of folk-inflected progressive doom that is indebted as much to the pantheon of traditional doom pioneers both old and new as they are to the hard rock and proto-metal bands of the seventies. A distinguishing feature of Northwinds is that they are able to use and reference their influences without coming across as a retro act.
Folk inspired metal of any ilk usually fails miserably or sounds too contrived. While Northwinds doesn’t always succeed with harnessing their disparate influences, the results always remain interesting. In addition to traditional doom metal instrumentation the band incorporates synthesizers, organ, chimes, flute, and samples. The synthesizers are at first off-putting, but ultimately provide the tunes with a unique atmosphere. The vocals may be an obstacle for some listeners which remotely sound like a cross between the vocals of Nicola “Cynar” Rossi from Doomraiser and Pagan Altar’s Terry Jones. They are affectional and nasally, yet they complement the music.
While there is no standout track, all of the tunes have unique moments. Album opener and instrumental intro “Turned to Stone” sounds as if it could have been lifted from one of many fantasy videogame cut-scenes or pause menus. It’s dramatic, grandiose, and a bit over-the-top, but it also introduces the listeners to some of the synth sounds that are recurrent throughout the recording. “Land of the Dead” begins with a killer doom riff and highlights some great bass playing accompanied with some atmospheric organ. The album-titled track, “Winter” clocks in at over twenty minutes and uses that time to effectively ebb-and-flow through all of their genre influences.
One of the best things going for Northwinds is superb, classic rock inspired bass playing that both anchors and carries each tune along. The songs teeter precariously over a precipice of ambient passages, progressive doom metal, folk, and classic rock. Despite the tug-of-war of all of these influences ‘Winter’ is not a disjointed mess, but rather a well thought-out, cohesive whole.
Adventurous listeners and fans of classic rock or progressive doom will probably get the most out of ‘Winter’. An initial listen may be off-putting, but with a little patience doom metal fans will be rewarded with the sounds offered by this unique band. Besides, if you make it to the last track you’ll hear an interesting, sped-up, slightly funky cover of Saint Vitus’ “Clear Windowpane”. This album is definitely a grower and worth checking out.
Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)