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Review: Astral Winter – Winter Enthroned (2011) - 95%

Midwinter Fires, April 28th, 2012

Astral Winter was formed in 2008 as a solo project of Josh Young. Astral Winter released a demo Illustrations of Death in 2009 on Josh Young’s own label Immortal Frost Productions. Winter Enthroned is the project’s first full length release which was also released on Immortal Frost Productions in 2011.

Let’s start with the production. Simply put, it’s great. It’s professional and it’s obvious that a lot of care and hard work went into the mix. Everything comes through clearly. The overall feel suits the title of the album well as it does give off the feeling of a wintry cold atmosphere. With that that being said the heavy use of keyboards and acoustic guitars do add a bit of warmth to the mix but still keep the wintry atmosphere close at hand.

Musically its melodic, symphonic black metal. A lot of things run through my head but I want to stress that Astral Winter does a very good job of creating a unique sound of its own. Some comparisons off the top of my head would be Dark Tranquility (The Gallery era), Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Children of Bodom and old In Flames. (The Jester Race era when In Flames didn’t suck). Elements from these bands with heavy keyboards and atmosphere thrown into the mix. Everything is performed at a very high skill level and I cannot help but feel jealous of the skill Josh Young possesses. From the creative guitar solos and song structures to the beautiful keyboard arrangements and the intricate drum patterns, it’s all done extremely well. Even the vocals are excellent.

The vocals are a mid range black metal growl which remind me a lot of older Dark Tranquility. They are delivered with confidence at a pretty high pace with long verses which would make coming up for air a challenge. They compliment the guitars beautifully and contribute to the icey, wintry atmosphere of the album. Deeper clean vocals add to the melodious atmosphere at various times throughout the album. They are mostly in the form of chant-like singing. I like the use of the two styles when used together. It is a nice touch.

The guitar work on Winter Enthroned is definitely one of the best features. It’s brilliant. Creative and catchy melodies weave enchanting harmonies between themselves and the keyboards. Tremolo picking is used extensively by both guitars but more so the rhythm guitar which provides the canvass for the slower paced lead guitars to work from. The guitar work is technical and sometimes fast but it always maintains a sense of basic melody. Kind of like a mix of power metal with melodic black/death metal such as older versions of Dark Tranquility, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, In Flames and even Children of Bodom. Plenty of guitar solos are used in multiple places throughout all of the songs. At times multiple guitars are soloing in combination to create a wall of harmonies which can be fast but also appear in a more mid paced form which can be rather captivating. The acoustic guitars have a hollow, empty feel to them but still come across as warm. It’s a nice contrast that blends well into what is an otherwise a cold atmosphere.

Like the acoustic guitars, the keyboards add a bit of warmth to the heavy atmosphere they help create. The background is filled with a halo-like or even choir-like effect which makes everything sound very dark and ominous. Various other styles of keyboards are also used from a piano to a more standard synth sound to a medieval harpsichord sound. Whatever version of the keyboard is being used you can be sure it is working closely with the guitars. At times the keyboards even act as the lead guitar much in the same way as Children of Bodom or Eternal Tears of Sorrow. Some of the keyboard leads remind me a lot of Eternal Tears of Sorrow actually.

To be honest I don’t even know if there is a bass on this album. If there is I didn’t really hear it. It’s certainly not missed and truthfully I don’t even really care if it’s there or not. So I’ll just move on to the drums. They really impressed me. They are not content to provide basic steady patterns. Instead they use a ton of variation with the kick actually working in combination with the guitar picking or in some crazy way creating rhythmic harmonies with them. The kick drum is thick and it’s loud and it pounds straight through the spine. It adds a whole new dimension to the music and yet another point of interest for the listener – as if we needed one. A great example of this is the song “Through Timeless Aeons of Frost“.

With so many highlights on the album it’s hard to choose highlights. I think for starters the third track “Through Timeless Aeons of Time” is one of my favourites on the album. As I mentioned above the combination of technical guitar melodies and double kick patterns is great. It is a prime example of how to use a double kick properly. There’s even a sort of keyboard interlude with spoken word to end the song. The fourth track “Defenders of the Astral Kingdom” is also a highlight for much of the same reasons “Through Timeless Aeons of Time” is. Pounding drums, ominous keyboards provide a steady atmosphere while also adding more medieval and majestic sound. The song has a doom-like feel to it with a mid paced tempo that transitions from a steady drum rhythm to thunderous double kicking. Clean vocals make an appearance as well as several interesting guitar solos and a keyboard solo. The sixth track “Longing For Winters End” has a pretty sombre mood to it as the title might suggest. It has a nice interlude half way through that was really cool with the thick drum sound mixed with acoustic guitars and keyboards. A nice guitar solo breaks the mellow feel of the interlude and leads the song back into the faster paced sections. Any of the three ambient/acoustic instrumental songs were great. These include “Prologue“, “At the Gates of Forgotten Prophecy“, and “Epilogue“.

I was really impressed with the level of skill and creativity displayed on Winter Enthroned. I admit going into this review it is something I did not expect. It is highly melodic and atmospheric. I try not to use the word “epic” when doing my reviews but I see no other way to describe the feel of the music. The production is great as well as the album artwork. I think Josh Young has created something very special with Astral Winter. I am certain Astral Winter has what it takes become big. Simply put it is amazing music that is easy to listen to and will appeal to a very wide range of metal fans. Especially fans of the bands I’ve mentioned throughout this review. Looking forward to hearing a lot more.

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