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An Ageless, Radiant Flame - 100%

RNG, February 23rd, 2017

Perhaps the least remarkable aspect of this album is the place it has in the histories of melodic and technical death metal. Which is a bold statement - unknown though it is, it articulates an incredibly prescient vision of the fusion of the two styles, with monstrous technical skill (especially impressive because all of the members were high school students at the time of recording) and dynamics that hint of Québécois bands to come, such as Augury and Beyond Creation. Like those bands, Winter Bestowed's riffs take on a life of their own as soon as they erupt from the guitar strings, with countless subtle variations weaving smoothly together in a graceful dance. But above that, there is a passion and vigor here which, despite their own notable talents, those later bands possess not one tenth of. And with it comes a holistic and intuitive structuring that speaks of pure inspiration.

At the instant the opening track bursts into life, a searing solar filigree breaks out, only gradually resolving into a jagged riff pattern, giving time for the hyperspeed upwards and downwards arpeggios to dazzle and shock the listener before the body of the piece begins in earnest. Fretless basslines deftly dance and slide through the melodic framework, alternately emphasizing consonant and dissonant harmonies. When the main riff has clearly established itself, subtle variances of emphasis, timing, tempo and percussive backing cause it to contract and expand as though alive, while still pushing relentlessly forward and outward. Just like the legendary Atheist, constant subtle and not-so-subtle transitions are used throughout the release to create a relentless dynamism and sense of urgency. Dramatic climaxes can manifest through exquisitely harmonized melodic proclamations, sudden bursts of Crimson Massacre-esque dizzying speed, or deliberate brakings of the baseline unforgivingly fast tempo (like at 2:18 in this song) to create sharp contrasts. And, after that whirlpool of dense and triumphant melody, the track ends on an enigmatic lyrical note - "Nowhere shall we speak/not a breath shall we breathe/of the gifts that chaos and order bestow". Note also the bass-and-drums-only break at the end - this will resurface later.

Burning the Heavens and Underlying Chaos Sequence (sidenote - what a badass track title that is!) do not have nearly as strong of a sense of individual identity. For the most part - that is to say, aside from a couple catchy lead breaks - they run together in splashes and brushstrokes of red-orange-yellow. This hardly means that they are bad or disposable, though. After all, they make up half of the total material that the band has left us with. What these tracks serve to do, I think, is solidify the overall aesthetic and identity of Winter Bestowed's style, by adding more material to their melodic palette and giving us more of an idea of their inspirations. Underlying Chaos Sequence exists in a strange space between dissonance and more typical melodeath territory, Burning the Heavens takes a more tremolo-based approach, not unlike earlier Dark Tranquillity releases, and has one of the album's catchiest moments in the call-response lead at 3:52. Both of these are among the earlier pieces the band wrote, according to their website, so it's not surprising that they're slightly less refined - but still an important piece of the puzzle. Befitting the more uneasy melody is a more depressive lyricism: "Thy mirrored eden was framed with thorns of the deepest shadow/Alas, my page of redemption has turned to dust", "Wingless, thy skyline shattered/A fading everlasting race".

The final, eponymous track stands alongside the rest of the release, creating the perfect coda to the story of Winter Bestowed - but it also stands alone, in a way, on a plane of beauty which music rarely attains. It reaches peaks more like those of trance than of metal. It shatters all pretenses of normalcy and blazes a path to a purer, higher dimension. It opens, unsurprisingly, with the same frantic, mazelike conglomerations of furious melodies and percussion which have marked the whole release. But here a more progressive turn is taken - periodic midtempo, expansive lead sections like those of the opener make themselves known. A bass-driven, hypnotic build starting at the 3-minute mark creates anticipation, and coalesces down into a furious spiraling lead like that which opens The Great Hurler of Comets, as the vocalist cries out: "Nuances of radiance, delights of shades set ablaze/Descend into ashen, frail, of a lifeless grey". And this is not nearly the end - the band somehow continues pushing into still-greater realms of intensity, turning the entire second half of the piece into an unbearably frantic, tense crescendo. One final bass run heralds the breaking of the dam, and all remaining vestiges of light pour forth in a frenzy of unutterably beautiful tremolo. The exhausting, ecstatic ride has reached its destination, and sails into the stars. Lyricism and melody alike move into a space beyond "triumphant".

"Seasons of nuclei, ethereal light left unclear
November bestowed as a river to its tear
An archway of burning fragments collide
A faint glow stretched across the nightly sky

Abounding life, a new light's rise
Agaping majesty, recreation of words and sights...

This release, these mere twenty minutes of music, offer awe, magic, vitality, and passion, through the pure eyes of youth. It is nothing less than a celebration of life. Would I liked it if they had released more music before splitting up? Well, of course. But the out-of-nowhere, pure, untrammeled nature of this release has kept it free from decay and rust. Perhaps having more music in this style would dilute its magic.