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Album Review: Vintersea – Illuminated

Vintersea is a fairly new band, hailing from Portland, OR whose sound could be considered to be extreme progressive metal, and on Sept. 27th will foresee a new release from the band entitled Illuminated out on M-Theory Audio.

Admittedly, I’d never actually heard of this band before taking on this review, but the description of their sound kept me intrigued, simply because I’m a fan of extreme styles of metal and I’m also a progressive music fan. So I was curious to hear how Vintersea would forge two of my beloved genres and styles. Granted, this is not the first time these two styles have conjoined, but it can be interpreted in many different ways, and I have to say, that Vintersea’s take is quite an enjoyable one.

Illuminated opens with a song called “Spawn Awakening” starting with big open tremolo chords in the intro before leading into quite a bombastic and adrenaline-infused blast with vocalist Avienne fry screaming on top of it to give it an emotional tinge which eventually leads into an incredibly melodic acoustic interlude and multi-layered melodic vocals. This shows the Vintersea’s progressive side. What I enjoy the most about this song is that if a listener were to pick up Illuminated and just listen to the first song, it makes no mistake in displaying the genre that the band is going for, which I find to be incredibly important. The dynamics in the song, whether wide open, tight and focused, or atmospheric, they do quite an impressive job showing they’re capable. In other words, a really great way to open the album.

This leads into the following track “Old Ones” which holds a steady pace throughout, with a lot of melodic guitar work to fill in the space alongside melodic vocals while still having dynamics. One standout on this track, in particular, is the guitar solo. It is very expertly crafted and lends itself to be memorable and fit the song very well. This eventually leads into a cinematic outro starting at about 4:51 onward. They probably could have shortened it somewhat, or at least allowed the outro to build into something bigger, but nevertheless, it served its purpose.

The title track “Illuminated” is probably the most melodic and straightforward of the record. I could see why this was chosen as the lead single and music video. Avienne’s vocals don’t get aggressive until about the 4:45 minute mark in the song. She’s mainly focusing on her melodic clean singing, and I’d say it’s a nice change of pace for the record and will more than likely bring in more mainstream listeners to the band.

“Crack The Light” is where Vintersea expands and shows their progressive side, starting with an ambient ballad which leads into a familiar-sounding black metal style waltz, with big open guitar chords, stomping drums and what sounds like strings in the background accenting the downbeats. The track begins to get REAL interesting with a saxophone break at 2:50. Interestingly though, I find this section to come off more classical-sounding than jazzy, which most people would assume saxophone being more associated with jazz. Moreover, it sounds more like the soundtrack to a ballroom dance than your local café hangout session. Strange metaphorical comparisons aside, this song is rather complex and might take more than one listen to appreciate. However, I enjoyed all the different shades of arrangements; a highlight of the record for sure.

“Fiery tongue” starts with a death metal undertone with operatic/choir-like vocals on top. This is a somewhat common contrast, but one that you either enjoy or don’t. Typically I’m not entirely a fan of this kind of vibe, but in a lot of cases, it’s usually for a good majority of the song. Vintersea seems to be aware that it can be a bit overdone, so they allow the listener a break every so often with more straightforward heavy bits and riffing. The symphonic instruments in the background of the heavy music with heavy vocals remind me a bit of Fleshgod Apocalypse but not quite as flamboyant, but more of a subtle layer to add to the atmosphere.

The final track, “Befallen” is easily the heaviest track on Illuminated, straight out of the gate. The focus is more on heavy guitars and aggressive vocals ranging from low growls to high screams. While there are still some of those symphonic tinges, and the vocals still get melodic in parts, this song simply does not let up. A nice break in the guitar solo section, which again I must say is very well done. Jeremy Spencer’s drumming, in particular, is orchestrated quite intensely for this track and keeps the momentum going forward which serves as a nice swift kick on the way out for the listener.

After hearing the album top to bottom, it’s quite apparent that Vintersea has a sound that they’re going for and they crafted it quite well on here. While at times I do feel the music can be a bit same-same, there are many shining moments on Illuminated. I enjoy when the band gets aggressive, and the standout is Avienne’s vocal ability. The times when the group is willing to step outside the box and do something whacky is something certainly to be admired. That being said, some may find this album to be a bit of an acquired taste. In certain areas, I would tend to agree. However, there are also other areas in which I feel the average extreme metal or progressive metal listener, as well as even a more mainstream metal listener, could sink their teeth into and find something they can take away from it. For fans of bands like Enslaved, Agalloch, Uada, Ihsahn, Deafheaven, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Ne Obliviscaris, this is certainly a record to check out.

Highlights:

Spawn Awakening
Old Ones
Crack The Light
Befallen

Editor Grade

B+

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