Despite hailing from Greece, Winter Eternal’s take on melodic black metal doesn’t quite sync up to anything from Rotting Christ or Varathron. As befitting their name, the group boasts a cold atmosphere along with intricate guitar playing and occasional symphonic swells more in line with Dissection or Windir. Their second full-length album Realm of the Bleeding Shadows shows considerable growth compared to their 2013 self-titled debut, keeping a similar style but picking up a few tricks along the way.
What really sets Realm of the Bleeding Shadows apart from its predecessor as well as a majority of black metal, in general, is the bass playing. Not content with merely being heard, the bass lines frequently overpower the rhythm guitars and can be as intricate as the leads. It’s a fascinating dynamic shift, especially when you consider that bandleader Soulreaper played all the instruments but drums on both efforts. The clanking could come off gimmicky, but it really goes a long way in shaping this album’s character.
Of course, the other performances remain just as tight. There seems to be a heavier emphasis on atmosphere as the guitar tone comes off darker while the vocals take a more distant spot in the mix. I also find the drums sound more aggressive, perhaps due to the changing personnel, but the overall dynamic stays clean. The vocals would benefit from more power behind them but they clearly aren’t meant to be the main focus.
While the songwriting isn’t quite as impactful as the virtuosity, there are some great tracks on here. “Embrace the Old Ways” is easily the most immediate standout, coming off the acoustic intermission of “The Promise” with the album’s most triumphant, upbeat riff sets. I can also appreciate the melodic march on “Darkness Guides Me” and the choral breakdown on “The Secrets of Time.” “A Tearful Song” also makes for an appropriately depressive highlight despite the vocals coming dangerously close to Silencer territory.
Overall, Realm of the Bleeding Shadows isn’t quite an essential black metal staple, but its stunning musicianship really helps set Winter Eternal apart from their peers. It features some of the best bass playing I’ve ever heard in the genre and it works with the other instruments in setting up a proper aesthetic. Part of me wishes the album was a little longer but a compact thirty-two-minute runtime also makes it a safe recommendation for anybody looking to try them out. With any luck, Winter Eternal is well on their way in carving out a distinct identity in the melodic black metal scene.
“Darkness Guides Me”
“Embrace the Old Ways”
“A Tearful Song”