Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Vinterland - Welcome To My Last Chapter (1996) 80/100.

Sweden’s Vinterland are an oddity. They’re much loved on the underground and, after the release of their 1996 full-length debut, seemed to have the world at their feet. Could they have conquered all on the black metal scene? Possibly. However, after their debut, which is entitled ‘Welcome To My Last Chapter’, the Swedish trio fell off the face of the Earth rarely to be seen or heard from again. It was unfortunate that the band became masters of mystique and the occult because this debut album pointed to a bright future for the band especially since, at the time, the second wave had passed on and the dawn of a new era was upon us. If only Vinterland had stuck around, they could have dominated this so-called new era if ‘Welcome To My Last Chapter’ is anything to go by. In recent months, the band have come out of the shadows to reveal that they are still active and, apparently, in the process of writing new material but, given the fact that some fourteen years have passed since their debut, I have my doubts and reservations as to whether Vinterland can still cut it in the modern era.

Obviously, since this debut is still a product of the second wave style, Vinterland will probably have to adapt their style in order to sound as fresh as they did when they first burst onto the scene. Looking to songs like the instrumental ‘So Far Beyond... (The Great Vastforest)’, one can only hope Vinterland adopt a more modern sound if they’re to revive their legacy, one which was cut short for unknown reasons (or, at least unknown to me). Songs like the aforementioned, which features wonderfully ethereal synths and a lonesome piano seem to suggest that Vinterland should still have the craft and guile that led them to such success after their debut. However, times have changed, let us not forget. In this day and age, it’s more likely that a band will be lambasted for pining over the second wave, rather than revered for their loyalty to a scene which passed away many moons ago. Despite all this, there are things occurring on the debut which do suggest Vinterland could cut it in the modern era.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily call their music “ahead of its time”, there are features on it, such as the subtle semi-acoustics, which lead me to believe that this album is no where near as generic as much of the material which was produced around 1996, a time when bands were still clinging on to the memory of the second wave, a movement in black metal which had just come to an end, in my opinion, and which had left black metal in a rather precarious position, meaning she had to look for somewhere new to call her home in terms of what styles she could fuse her original sound with. In terms of this album itself, there are certainly aspects which I always felt could be improved, despite the reputation of the band suggesting they can do no wrong. Whilst many call Vinterland one of the coldest black metal bands in existence, I find a lot of warmth in the melodies of songs like ‘A Crystal So Clear’ and even in the clean introductory passage of songs like ‘As I Behold The Dying Sun’, a song which lyrically seems to point towards a very bleak and cold conclusion.

To me, the guitars display a lot of warmth whilst the rasped vocals and lyrical themes of darkness and night appear to suggest otherwise. When it comes to highly melodic black metal, I do tend to feel a wonderful juxtaposition within the structures of an album. As I said, the cold of the vocals, lyrics and tempos are positioned alongside rather warm and fuzzy melodies from the layers of guitar riffs. Unlike your typical depressive black metal affair, this atmospheric black metal classic actually harbours a lot of raw emotions, one’s that remind the listener of feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and pain. The vocals have a lot to do with this becoming a factor of the music as they’re convincingly emotional without being over-the-top or overbearing. The vocals are a constant source of anguish to tap into and Vinterland use the vocals well to connect with the listener, though I wouldn’t consider them the pivotal aspect of the album, they are a consistent force and drive the feelings melancholy onwards and upwards and away from a juvenile conclusion.

Songs like ‘Vinterskogen’, although far too short, represent Vinterland’s ability to be able to be different and dynamic well. The song features some lush symphonies courtesy of the inclusion of subtle keyboards, an element of this album which I would have liked to have seen more from. The keyboards, with their subtle and sparse influence, create images of kingdoms of ice amidst the fiery warmth of the guitar melodies. The keyboards also, despite their infrequence in appearance, manage to construct a wonderful relationship with, in particular, the guitars. Together they’re formidable and I would have loved to have seen more from them in the wake of songs like ‘Still The Night Is Awake’, a sweet little track which features both working mesmerisingly together. Despite a few niggling doubts and concerns, this album still manages to deserve its classic status. I really do hope that Vinterland come back with at least one more effort as their legacy and their fans deserve that.

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