Winter Eternal – Land of Darkness

Greek black metal is a well-established scene in one of metal’s most extreme subgenres, and for me personally, none more so than Winter Eternal. Although they may have relocated from Attica to Scotland, I’m still happy to bundle 2019’s Realm of the Bleeding Shadows with that enclave given its excellence. It was a low-key release which now sits in my top 5 melodic black metal records of the 2010s. Its key qualities include its crisp tone, strong melodies and brevity which it wrapped into a compelling package which almost seems over before it’s begun. Clearly the band was unhappy with just realms, so they’re now branching out into a Land of Darkness. Is this a land you should visit?

This record has all of these qualities too. Realm was black metal but clearly drawing from heavy metal of the 80s, leveraging a shredding guitar tone, overblown solos and strong, harmonized melodies. Land takes up this mantle and runs with it, featuring black metal which is not all that black. Its bold melodies, classic metal influences and occasional acoustic interlude ensure it sits at the melodic end of the subgenre, sounding more Scandinavian than Hellenic despite their roots. The result will be recognisable to fans of Dissection, though Winter Eternal are less aggressive (musically but hopefully also as individuals). And although the record runs a little longer than Realm, the songs are short and direct enough that it doesn’t lose much impact over its course. Those extra minutes are wisely invested into fast, immediate music.

While Land illustrates the same strengths as the debut, this is unfortunately not the whole story. These guys are now more obviously trapped between the horns of black and 80s influences. When they try to fuse these two strands, such as on the opener called “Crossing the Blackest Skies,” the core black metal lacks punch and sounds overproduced for what it’s trying to be. It’s toothless, lacking the dark, menacing edge which I want to hear in my black metal. Even on the tracks which are at the blacker end of the spectrum which largely shirk classic metal sounds (namely, “Faded to Silence” and “Isolation”), I found the same was true as I was left nonplussed by the unremarkable blasting. Conversely, I actually enjoy Winter Eternal more when they’re leaning harder into their heavy metal proclivities and exhibiting their guitar chops. But these are stifled by the constraints of black metal so there isn’t as much as I would like to hear.

“The Illusive Wings of Death” is the exception that proves the rule as it sways between the two sides of the Winter Eternal sound but finds a compelling balance. Its sharper introduction has an ominous edge which gives way to a blackened passage which is as furious as they come. But the transition from 2:40 shines through the dark with a mid-paced, melodic, shredding guitar, eventually turning to a theatrical conclusion which could have been lifted from The Number of the Beast. The shifts between the dark and the light engage me and the riffs are some of the strongest on offer. While lingering on the record’s strengths, I will also call out “Crown of Stars” and “Shaped by Grief” which adopt an interesting violin track to undertake some of the melodic heavy-lifting (even if only for a short passage on the former). The string sound pierces the black metal barrage and I enjoy the variety. Sadly it only arises for a few minutes throughout but I think there’s more to hear here.

Another demerit is against the production as the vocals, drums and bass are too loud in the mix. I admire a black metal record attempting to spread the load from raw guitars to other sounds but each detracts from the experience as the guitars are the record’s best instrument. The hoarse shout is too close to the guitars in volume, the loud drums are boxy and obnoxious, and the bass is too obviously jaunty for a theoretically extreme album. I like my black metal to be relatively raw but the clean drum tones (especially the snare) are particular offenders. In the few calm moments which strip back the drums, the quietness just accentuates how shit the snare sounds in general.

Winter Eternal have written a frustrating record. There’s a lot to be said for a sharp, direct release featuring solid riffs like this one, but it falls far short of its excellent predecessor which blended their influences more coherently and enjoyably. It’s also let down by its sub-par production which wraps its sounds into a more aggravating package than it needs to be. But I’m not ready to give up as the band I admire is still in there. Perhaps you should sojourn into these lands but I would advise you don’t spend too long there.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Hells Headbangers
Websites: |
Releases worldwide: June 4th, 2021

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