Wednesday, August 5, 2015
…frozen in time: NORTHWINDS – ‘Eternal Winter’
It’s no secret that the French progressive doom band Northwinds is a favorite here at Vertical Chamber Apparatus as the band continually pushes themselves both creatively and compositionally. Despite their two-and-a-half decades of existence and a bulletproof discography the band still dwells in relative obscurity to the world at large. While the group is often and not necessarily unfairly labelled as a “doom metal band” that label is really only a fraction of the story. Northwinds definitely invokes the ancient rites of doom metal—mostly in an organic, proto-doom spirit—but they also voyage extensively into the realms of progressive rock, folk, psychedelia, and 70’s inspired hard rock thus taking the listener on phantasmagorical journeys into uncharted lands. With four outstanding releases already under their collective belts the band is poised to release their fifth full-length, the long-awaited and highly anticipated ‘Eternal Winter.’
The band’s excellent 2012 album, ‘Winter,’ (review HERE) was initially conceived as a double album appropriately titled ‘Winter…Eternal Winter,’ but the idea was shelved by Black Widow Records as a risky venture. ‘Winter’ was a career defining moment for the band as the release seemed to capture them not only at their doomiest, but also at their most mystical. Based on the strength of ‘Winter’ it is exciting to know that most, if not all, of the material of ‘Eternal Winter’ was conceived and composed during the same writing cycles that have produced some of Northwinds’ strongest and darkest material to date.
‘Eternal Winter’ is unquestionably an extension of ‘Winter,’ though the latest doesn’t quite descend into the same dark depths as its predecessor, nor does it establish the consistent magical atmosphere that was threaded throughout the previous album. These points should not be mistaken as criticism, but should be taken as mere observation as Northwinds has yet to disappoint and ‘Eternal Winter’ is no exception from that rule. While the magical atmospherics that were in abundance on ‘Winter’ are in slight decline on the band’s latest they definitely are not absent. The dreamy intro of “Chimeres” gives way to one of the most powerful tracks of the album. “Chimeres,” with its effective use of synths and ghostly sound effects, shares a stylistic and tonal kinship to other standout tracks from the band’s discography like “Black Tower” or “Winds of Sorrow.” Adding to the atmosphere of “Chimeres” is a sinister, phantom-like vocal effect that echoes the vocals of Sylvain Auvé—a subtle, yet effective detail that enriches the track as a whole.
Where ‘Winter,’ for the most part, was steeped in darkness ‘Eternal Winter’ chooses to travel paths more related to progressive influenced hard rock. The flute heavy “Crossroads” has an epic, classic rock vibe that is fueled by majestic guitar solos, organ, and Auvé’s soulful vocals. The uncharacteristic “From the Cradle to the Grave,” one of the shortest non-instrumental songs written by the band, is dominated by a 70’s style strut that seemingly burns out almost as soon as it starts. “A Light for the Blind” may just be the best representation of Northwinds’ sound. It is a sprawling track that is embedded with moments of catchiness—particularly due to the lead guitar—juxtaposed with sonic explorations to other dimensions. It’s a great track that captures Northwinds doing what they do best—crafting intricate, often emotional tunes that never fail to keep the listener engaged.
Northwinds have, impressively, continued their upward trajectory by releasing another stunner in a succession of stellar albums. The band is poised to have an incredible year with the upcoming release of ‘Eternal Winter’ hot on the heels of their killer split 7” with fellow countrymen Marble Chariot (review HERE). In addition, the vinyl release of their 1995 demo courtesy of metalloscope-music has just been released. ‘Eternal Winter,’ like the rest of Northwinds’ discography, is an enchanting album that is comprised of a multitude of layers. Fans of doom metal and progressive rock will undoubtedly discover and hear a lot to admire in the music of Northwinds and ‘Eternal Winter’ is no exception. An engaging listen from start-to-finish. Highly recommended.