Sound: The search for obscurity continues. Winds are a very niche supergroup from Scandanvia made up of known musicians from various bands, most notably, Carl Tidemann, Hellhammer and Lars Eikand (who is best known as the opera vocalist from Before the Dawn). They play a style of avante-garde metal that is heavily influenced by progressive music, Neo-classical arrangements and styles and even classical instrumentation. The songs are heavily based around complicated fills and sweeps and powerchorded riffing. This effect gives the tracks a very dramatic feel to them, as with the nature with Avante-garde, they switch between the two styles in strange variation, with the powerchord riffing being more prevelant.
01. Universal Creation Array: a bright piano intro is whats first heard, possibly some of most amazing 22 seconds of music to ever come out of Scandanavia. This doesn't last at all though, as Hellhammers lead hammer drum patterns and neo-classic guitars take away all sense of relaxation. Its not long before you can see what makes this band so brilliant when you hear the soft vocals at 1:27.. and then the epic sweeping solo right after it. The solowork is immense indeed.. I doubt many bands outside the technical death metal genre really know how to perform sweeps and shreds quite as much as Carl Tidemann. This song gives the impression that the group don't go for heavyness in any sense, its rather more emotive than other melodic metal bands.
02. Distorted Dimension: the soft accoustic guitars follow the same melody as SOAD's 'Question!' but at a slower pace. The song isnt anything like SOAD at all though. The first verse is overdubbed with some flashy piano work but the entire song has a bigger emphasis on the guitar riffs than combined piano/guitar/violin peices. The solo is something spectacular though, its something straight out of Muhammed Suicmez's thought waves and the bridge after it is dramatic enough to blend into a James Bond theme tune. Whats noticable about this group now is that there are barely any repeated riffs and it keeps every song as fresh as possible.
03. The Grand Design: a somewhat Opeth style piano peice hides what can only be described as some of the biggest guitar w**kery since Scar Symmetry's 'Parenthesis in Eternity'. Eiklands vocals are in a slightly lower register this time, possibly to show a more depressing side, but the guitar and drum patterns are hugely progressive in their style and the fills never cease to fly all around. The song isnt quite as fast as the previous two but its more focused on the strange atmosphere that can be felt from absorbing the melodies of the pianos and vocals. The main solo is just absolutely mind melting, even if very short. However, theres a very nice addition to this song as Dan Swano makes a guest appearence to lend his gruff tenor voice and equally gruff death metal vocals.
04. When the Dream of Paradise Died: a bit more 'metal' this time round, the riffs are pretty reminscint of the gothenburg scene and even of the song Master of Puppets. Much like Arcturus though, the chaotic style of Hellhammers playing is calmed for a softer bridge. Straight after can be heard the voice of yet another well known vocalist: Lars Nedland or 'Lazare' from Borknagar. The solo though is largely different from the melody of the song, as its heavily laden with middle eastern style harmonies.
05. Fall and Rise: the accoustic guitars are much like Opeths song 'Coil' where a depressive riff would be played and then some very melodic and almost uplifting parts are played, although in this song its been swapped round. The solo is incredibly strange, as the underlying rythm guitar keeps transitioning its key in a seemingly melodic fashion. nedland returns to add some vocals, which sound like something Serj Tankian would do in his crazy fashion.
06. The Darkest Path: the intro is a heavily progressive speedy peice that really does sound like Thomas Haake playing. This doesn't last, as this sudden accoustic break down sets off the momentum.. and then it picks up again with a violin section that sounds incredibly similar to a Septic Flesh song. This song is much more sporadic and ever changing than the previous ones. The sudden heavy septic flesh playing is offset by a short (but ultimately insane) solo that is then cut short.. and then restarts again almost straight after and almost becomes long winded.
07. Convictions and Contradictions: the intro sounds much like a song from Borknagars 'Universal' album but has a lovely vocal duet and an Asian influenced solo to it. As the shortest song on the album, it sort of leaves a little to be desired but is at the right speed to not just go through one ear and out the other without mentally registering it.
08. Where the Cold Winds Blow: the accoustic/piano intro is quite lovely that starts of beautifully but becomes a little darker as it continues. The heavy, distorted section is a perfect fit for a slow black metal song, although its offset by a female vocalist with a very nightwish-esque vocal range. The slower, bouncing soft section is influenced by 80's power ballad clean guitar work and the melodies from the beginning of the song. Much like a considerably long Opeth song, it doesn't last very long and the black metal-esque section is repeated with a little less grandeur to lead the to end of the song (which contains another James Bond style violin 'riff').
09. The Last Line: the intro is definitly a peice that could be found in the baroque era. The rest of the isnt like that at all, the guitar fills and riffs are quite complex and keep the song sounding electric. The accoustic solo is a nice reprieve from the OTT guitar sweeping, although its just a prelude to the extended distorted solo that follows. The riffs that follow are heavily influenced by 'Prog melodies' but the soft section after that is just.. wierd. Its almost a little too much to digest. The ending is a little more toned down, but has the same sort of rolling feeling as listening to the end of Blackwater Park.. and Hellhammer really shows off his footwork. // 10
Lyrics: The different vocalists on this album really help make it something spectacular: From Lars Eiklands and Lars Nedlands Alto ranges, to Dan Swanos tenor range and growling, to even Agnete Kirkevaag's soprano voice (from Madder Mortem). While Eikland does most of the vocal work, Agnete's voice is also fairly prominant too. At some points in the album, all the vocalists perform sections together in choral backdrops.
The lyrics are pretty philosophical and relevant to our modern day world. The thing that doesn't really work is that while reading them, they would sound much better as being spoken rather than being sung, as this example from 'The Grand Design' shows:
A flaw in the grand design of what we call living
An aimless contradiction based purely on fiction
We must first accept our need to be
If we are to live and to be free
Failure to choose and realize
Is the foundation of our demise
Our subconscious is trying to tell us something
If not here, where should we be, how can we know
And if existence is imagined, does it matter anyway? // 8
Overall Impression: Its a little redundant to compare a band to someone, but Winds aren't entirly unique, although they have dramatic character and fairly over the top guitar playing. If you detracted the guitars, you would have a very similar sound to Arcturus and in a lot of points on the album, Opeth, but even then, theres not much to make any band truly the same.
As mentioned, the group has quite a good selection of artists performing on this album:
Lars Eikland (Before the Dawn, Age of Silence)
Carl Tidemann (ex-Arcturus, solo artist)
Andy Winter (Age of Silence, Sculptured, ex-Subteranean Masquerade)
Hellhammer (Mayhem, Arcturus)
Agnete Kirkevaag (Madder Mortem)
Lars Nedland (Borknagar, Age of Silence, Solefald)
Dan Swano (Generally in everything..)
Oystein Moe (ex-session bass in Ulver, Tritonus)
And members from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.
With such an impressive line up, its no wonder this album is pretty special. Its very hard to sum it up in a few words, but the overused terms 'epic' and 'amazing' would appear a lot. I have no particular favourite song within the album, its much like Katatonias new album which is great as an album with no particularly oushining song.
There are a few things though. Winds's previous albums have been very well mixed/recorded to sound as good as possible, but this particular album is a little let down, mostly in part to the guitar distortion sounding like it does on Deathcult Armageddon (Dimmu Borgit) and the bass almost having a 'blended' mix so that its only audible when used with a big bass woofer.
Another glaring issues that listeners might not like is what everyone knows as 'guitar w**king'. While nowhere near on the same level as say, Dragonforce, a lot of the time, the guitars can sound like, at times, Muhammed Suicmez is on speed and the Dying fetus guitarist decided to join in.
But what really gets me is the fact that it focuses mostly on the metal. Think of Opeth for a moment: In the song Harlequin Forest, there a sections that go from heavy and 'deathy' to extremely soft and pretty. But theres none of that one this album, its mostly almost always got a distorted guitar to try and keep to being within metal rather than being truly progressive. Still, its a pretty damn good effort.. // 8