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Adder's Fork / Winter's Breath / Dea Artio / In Dornen > A Gathering of Four > Reviews > gasmask_colostomy
Adder's Fork / Winter's Breath / Dea Artio / In Dornen - A Gathering of Four

Uneven impressions - 68%

gasmask_colostomy, March 6th, 2023

Splits remain an interesting format even in this primarily digital age, because it's the closest to a mixtape you're going to hear provided you were born after 2000. I'll be honest, they don't always leave the best impression, partly because the reasons for matching bands together may seem odd at times, though I usually get left with some impression at the very least. In the case of A Gathering of Four, the logic for the split is unarguable, since the quartet of acts all have released with Running Wild Productions or currently call the label home. Also, all the bands come from Austria and, except for In Dornen which is a duo, all are solo projects. However, that's where the similarities end and I start to wonder what kind of listener the label had in mind for this release. 3 bands here could be broadly classified as black metal, while Adder's Fork definitely couldn't, playing a kind of heavy or gothic metal without much extremity at all. I also rather think that it could have been Adder's Fork that suggested the title of the split, what with Marko Köfler taking the band name from the three witches' potion in Macbeth and A Gathering of Four sounding like an increase from "we three are gathered".

Regardless, it's the case that Adder's Fork kick off 79 minutes of music with 4 compact songs, all of which are shorter than every other song on the split. Latest single 'Memorial Ruins' carries off that softer Paradise Lost sound with aplomb, especially in the deep-voiced clean vocals, though also mixes in a healthy dose of bass atmosphere and rousing pace to shore up both sides of the gothic rock/metal equation. On the other hand, it would be tough to call the pretty fast thrum of 'The Fatalist (A Coming Dark)' truly gothic, since this is the only time on the Running Wild Productions release that I'm reminded of the band of that name. Indeed in places, Adder's Fork have more energy than the black metal acts that follow, even if the focus remains melodic and not at all dissonant. Rather pleasingly, this band's songs fit together fairly neatly despite being drawn from a span of years and recordings, so that I perceive a thread running through each of them, with a greater confidence in detailing and lead features in the more recent tracks.

Transitioning to an hour of black metal after that could have been quite shocking, so opting for possibly the most ambient of the compositions (which anyway begins with a lengthy accordion passage) seems to me a good choice. The reverse chronological journey Adder's Fork initiated turns more to individual journeys of more picturesque scenery, particularly as Dea Artio lead in with 14 minutes of 'Nur die Sterne über dir', a somewhat forlorn and yet intermittently hopeful trek over freezing mountaintops and lonely bare outcrops. Considering it's such a long track it very effectively separates the 2 parts of the split, just unfortunately constitutes a real drop in energy that is awkward by contrast, not least as a result of the production and sonic range taking a drop. The very dreary repetition has its value in the style and may find favour with some fans of depressive and lo-fi exponents of black metal - I just end up feeling this is the wrong medium to see Dea Artio in their best light.

Now, call me a fool for having expectations for this kind of "blind buy" that a split basically constitutes, but I find the listen only slightly picks back up, and that's problematic for a release as long as this one. True, the In Dornen songs have a much more energetic delivery than the rather soporific Dea Artio duo, though again the length of these compositions tussle with the snappiness that opened the split, painting a very atmospheric picture that also leaves a minor impression after it has departed. The black metal here favours more of a traditional long-form approach, trilling through riffs and rattling blasts that would be scenic and outdoorsy were it not for emphatic samples in both pieces by In Dornen, the first of which sounds fanatic in nature and designed to oppress, the second to stir more thoughtful emotions. Winter's Breath, perhaps suffering from being alphabetically last of the bands (is that the way Austrians organize tracklists?), have a relatively gentle style at times on their songs, threading keyboards into the sound alongside some melodic guitars, making 'Fight' one of those romantic nighttime black metal listens, though 'Zerstörer' proves that driving riffs and passion can be offered alongside dreamy introspection. Winter's Breath and In Dornen probably share the most common ground of the artists featured here, so putting them together makes sense, even if I wonder whether having Dea Artio's "before bed" ambience as the conclusion may have suited better.

I realize I've been going on a bit about the lack of uniformity or coherence across A Gathering of Four, so I should say that depending how you listen to this you have 4 different bands that could easily appeal to 4 different groups of listeners, and if you're getting this digitally just go ahead and chop up the release because all the tracks were already released anyway (some were shorter edits) and were probably never designed even to sit side by side with the other songs by the same band. That's certainly a shot in the eye for value when thinking about this kind of release, though conversely I would be really surprised if anyone came to the split as a current fan of all the bands. Like I said at the start, you're going to get an impression from A Gathering of Four, you just might not be consistently impressed.