Winter’s Verge – The Ballad of James Tig Review

It was with slight trepidation that I fished out The Ballad of James Tig from the promo pit some weeks ago. There was just something about the cover that I didn’t trust. Not to mention that a power metal band writing a concept album about a mythical Viking-esque adventure isn’t the most original pitch I’ve ever heard. But there’s something endearing about Winter’s Verge that has me investigating anyway. For one thing, they’re no novices — this is the Cypriots’ eighth release in seventeen years. For another, the band brought in a local author and playwright (Frixos Masouras) to write the concept and lyrics for The Ballad of James Tig. Now, me being a sucker for concept albums, and for power metal in general… well, I was sucked in pretty quickly.

Winter’s Verge play symphonic-tinged power metal that reminds me of Týr, with light brushes of mid-career Sonata Arctica and flourishes of Stratovarius and Kamelot. The symphonic elements of the music are far from overpowering, but add great texture and an appropriate sense of grandeur when needed. Basically, this is symphonic-adjacent power metal with progressive leanings that relies more on solid songwriting than speedy guitarwork to make its point. Epic swells and melodic power can be found all over the place, such as in “Dead Reckoning,” an absolute adventure with a chorus that demands your immediate and unwavering sing-along. That Winter’s Verge refuses to rely on traditional power metal tropes also means that the seven-minute long “Timeless,” the ballad and absolute highlight of the album, feels neither out of place nor any less powerful than larger, and catchier tunes like “I Accept” and “Blood on the Foam.” As promised by the cover and name, The Ballad of James Tig is filled with sea-worthy anthems and battle cries to do the oceans proud.

The real strength of this album, however, is the storytelling. Winter’s Verge offer a thematically consistent album, with a couple of guest vocalists playing additional roles as needed. Throughout the course of the album, our protagonist becomes the lone survivor of a vicious attack by a mythical creature (“It Begins”), faces disgrace in his quest for redemption (“Dead Reckoning”), falls in love (“Timeless”), confronts his ancient enemy only to fail a second time (“Blood on the Foam”), and finds his peace and happiness in his love for the sea (“The Sea”). Towards the end of the album, the title track expertly ties the complete story together by presenting it, in full, as a seaside ballad. Meanwhile, light orchestral touches, flutes, and melodic guitar leads emphasize the nautical nature of The Ballad of James Tig in a way that gives the album great flow and replay value. The Ayreonian level of dedication to clear and consistent storytelling is a strong point in the album’s arsenal, and Winter’s Verge do a great job of bringing the story to life in impassioned vocals and instrumental work that peaks and valleys according to the flow of the story.

While Winter’s Verge bring a whole lot of good to The Ballad of James Tig, I am sad to say that I do have a couple of reservations that are preventing me from giving it the score I’d rather be assigning. For one thing, at fifty minutes, the album feels a touch overlong. Despite there being plenty of variations within the songs themselves, Winter’s Verge still lean a bit too much on their mid-paced template. The inclusion of “Killagorak,” an orchestral interlude that marks the album’s midway point, also works better in theme than in practice. These are minor concerns, however; more troubling is how low the drumming is in the album’s mix, robbing the material of much power and energy. With so many hooks, swells, and general grandeur, an inability to follow through fully on energy hurts The Ballad of James Tig in a way that isn’t always noticeable, but is definitely always there.

With solid songwriting, awesome talent, and a clear vision, Winter’s Verge have a lot going for them on The Ballad of James Tig. Despite my reservations, this is an album I would heartily recommend to power metal fans. It’s rare that I become engrossed in the adventures of power metal album protagonists, but it’s happened here. I’m happy for James Tig, I really am. And I think he could make you happy too.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pride & Joy Music
Releases Worldwide: September 11th, 2020

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