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Vintersea - Illuminated Award winner

Vintersea
Illuminated
by Justin "Witty City' Wittenmeier at 19 September 2019, 5:10 AM

VINTERSEA is a Progressive Metal band from Oregon; their Prog sound incorporates extreme Metal genres and Melodic Death. Their first album “The Gravity of Fall,” was an excellent debut record with a lot of great aspects to it.  However, it seemed like the band was still searching for what sound they wanted to call their own.  With their new full length, “Illuminated,” VINTERSEA discover more about themselves with a much more focused effort.  When I say “focused,” I want you to understand that I don’t mean “streamlined” or “mainstream.”  Whereas their debut found itself experimenting with Melodic Death Metal and Prog, “Illuminated,” sees the band stretching beyond their boundaries and upping the Prog elements.   Despite the homing in on their identity as a band, the overall sound is still rooted in extreme avenues but this time more than just MDM…Black Metal and even some Groove find a home here.

Vocalist Avienne puts on one hell of a performance—it is clear her vocal abilities have only improved since their first album.  Across the six tracks, she shows that she is one of the most versatile and capable vocalists in the Metal scene today.  Switching back and forth between extreme and clean vocals is obviously nothing new but few people do it as effortlessly as she does on “Illuminated.” Truly, from an outsider such as myself, it really sounds like she sings and growls as easy as breathing.  Without a doubt, she has upped her game; her Death growls are even more searing, her screams pierce even harder, and there are several moments on the album where she is straight up doing Black Metal vocals.  The first track, “Spawn Awakening,” is a Black Metal track with atmosphere for days; her vicious attack starts the album off right by grabbing the listener’s attention and never letting go.

That is only half what she can do—her singing voice, as moving as it was on the prior release, has found ways to be even more so. This time around, she often sings in a more ethereal tone, a wave of emotion that seems to just glide over the heavy music with the gentleness of falling leaves but with the weight of rolling thunder.   The opening vocal lines on “Old Ones,” showcase this—and how well she blends in with the accompanying music.  Throughout the album, the vocal patterns/lines work expertly well with the music—the song writing and the compositions born from it are damn near perfect.  On the title track, “Illuminated,” the catchy chorus is carried by her lithe voice over more tranquil music but near the song’s end, she explodes with deep, chilling Death growls that rip the track to pieces as the music goes more chaotic.

Of course, the structure of the songs are expected since this is a concept album, telling the ongoing struggles of humanity after being nearly wiped out on earth.  The truth is that so many concept albums are convoluted and focus more on story telling than the actual music or vice versa…few manage to really meld the two.   “Illuminated,” doesn’t have that problem, as the story goes hand in hand with the music.  This results in an album that can be enjoyed straight thru from beginning to end or as a piece meal basis, listening to favorite tracks first.  Again, this is all because of the compositions of the album, the free-flowing nature of the songs that fit so well together—like a puzzle, each piece comes from the next but also connects to another one.  One of the reasons this works so well is because the album contains very little repetition.

When the band has a good idea, they don’t beat it to death but instead use it as a springboard for the next movement.  For example, “Crack of Light,” has a section about a quarter of the way through that turns the music jazzy, complete with a sax.  While the sax plays, unique background chants litter the background.  They could had kept going with this idea but instead seized the moment to let Extreme metal return in a natural, organic way.  I’ve heard very few albums this year that flow as smoothly as this one, very few that can piece all the ideas together without sounding like nothing more than a thrown together mash up.  No, “Illuminated,” is much more methodical than that.  The run time also helps with this—the album is about 40 minutes long which, over the years of reviewing, I have found to be the sweet spot for most bands.  I do feel like it could have an extra track or two, but at the same time, the album’s lengths allows for easy digestion.  Being long winded with a few fluff tracks was one of the few problems with their debut so it is good they changed that up for this release.

Going back to “Crack of Light,” the mid-section throws a curve ball with a section controlled by Spanish guitar—again, a great idea that doesn’t overstay its welcome but brings immense enjoyment while it is there.  Jorma and Riley know what to play, how to play it, and where to put it within context of the song.  The ending guitar solo for “Spawn Awakening,” shows their knack for using the guitar as an extension of the song instead of having it too front and center.  All too often Metal bands forget that the guitars aren’t the only important instrument in the genre—their guitars incorporate themselves into the songs as living, breathing entity that work just a part of the whole beast.  Just listen to the acoustic guitars in “Spawn Awakening,” to understand what I mean.

I have to give special props to bassist Karl Whinnery and drummer Jeremy Spencer—these two instruments lay the foundation for any Metal band worth their salt.  With VINTERSEA, this foundation changes quite often—truly a challenge that these two meet head on and pull off exceedingly well, especially on the track “Fiery Tongue.”  This song has many tempo changes—and the song goes from Blackened fury to crushing Death metal, back to groove, and even some ambient. Karl and Jeremy played a large part in pulling this song off for sure.

The final track, “Befallen,” is a banger of a track.  The hammering snare drums, harrowing screams, the intensity of the guitars….it all comes together for this last track and it is a balls-out throw down.  The music behind the clean vocal portions about halfway thru the song is one of the more intense moments on the album—and the guitar solo balances melody with the face ripping. Do I think this album is an instant classic or a masterpiece?  No.  I obviously think it is damn good, as you can read and see by the score I’m giving it, but I feel like this band has a lot more to say.  This isn’t their best album because they simply haven’t made their best yet; I’m giving it a perfect score because it is such a great progression from their debut.  They have expanded upon their sound while finding a more even footing without sacrificing their core elements.  In the end, “Illuminated,” displays the band growing stronger from their first album and a clear drive to continue to do so—this album has set the stage for the rest of their career.   They are definitely going places and it will be one hell of a ride for them and the fans.

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Spawn Awakening
2. Old Ones
3. Illuminated
4. Crack of Light
5. Fiery Tongue
6. Befallen
Lineup:
Jeremy Spencer – Drums
Jorma Spaziano – Guitars
Riley Nix – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Avienne Low – Vocals
Karl Whinnery - Bass
Record Label: M-Theory Audio
     


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