Vintersea - Illuminated - (9/10)
Published on October 1, 2019
I’ve been looking forward to Vintersea’s new release for a really long time and I had serious expectations from the band. The Portland based quintet demonstrated real talent and massive potential with their debut “The Gravity of Fall” so I was really curious to see how they would evolve with “Illuminated”. Suffice to say that when the title track was released as a single in June, Vintersea have shown that they have entered a whole new league, and they set the bar really high for the new album. Now the release comes to confirm that the entire record lives up to the same degree of excellence. Their sound could be described as progressive metal combined with post black metal and strong experimentation, but even with so many fancy words it is difficult to encapsulate the extent of the music. So let’s crack open this rough diamond and have a closer look at its raw beauty.
I really enjoyed the band’s debut, but it did have a few bugs such as the not so brilliant sound production, and the fact that it became straining at over an hour in length. Not only did the band get rid of these slight mishaps, but they feel now as professional as a band that has been around for decades. They sound so much more consistent in delivery and have expanded on all dimensions of their music. The combination of prog & black elements means that it’s highly eclectic and intricate but still holds a constant undertone of raw savagery. I must give a shout out to Gabe Johnston & Troy Glessner for the tech magic mixing and mastering this baby. The sound perfectly grasps the duality in the band’s influences. To give you a better picture of where this sound is really going, Vintersea has been associated to bands like Aggaloch and Ne Obliviscaris and they totally own that comparison. Furthermore it is Xenoyr of Ne Obliviscaris that has created the beautiful artwork for the album.
The album’s concept relates to a downfall of human civilization and explores the post-apocalyptic scenario that follows. You may say that this is just another album about “The Matrix” but the imagery of Vintersea is truly unique and fully comes forward with the music. The black metal vibe means that it is full of grinding aggressive riffs and it has this raw metallic vibe that fully depicts the chaotic future that is described. The dual guitar work of Riley and Jorma is fierce and menacing, with flat blackened riffs and tremolo picking, alternating with progressive complex patterns and of course Jorma’s lead guitar brings some fantastic melodies and solos. The drums and bass that suffered massively from the low mix on the debut now shine viciously. They add so much power and pump that give this driving forward feel to the music and more weight than a mountain of post-apocalyptic debree. I love Jeremy Spencer’s relentless blast beat and double kick sound that grows so meaty when joined by the chunky tones of Karl Whinnery’s bass. This forceful menacing expression comes in contrast with the serene soft parts that give a feeling of cold eerie darkness but with a hopeful feeling of a dim light shining behind it. This is also where the more intricate and experimental side of Vintersea fully comes into being.
This expressive bipolarity of the music can also be felt in Avienne Kiuttu’s vocals. Her visceral cathartic screaming just scars and sears through skin and bone, only for the wound to be soothed by her beautiful clean voice. She has improved a lot as a singer, and I feel that the vocal work on Illuminated is light years ahead of the debut. The screaming is what really gets me as it sounds dark and evil beyond measure, almost making the music feel like a living entity. The low notes she reaches are also to be envied especially among female singers. On the clean singing side, she has this philosophic touch and almost a bit of a narrative vibe that creates full vivid pictures.
Picking highlights or special moments is something that I often do, but with Illuminated that would just turn this into a track by track review. Still I think “Crack of Light” is a song that peaked my interest slightly more, as it’s the longest and most various song on the record, most akin to the taste of proggers such as myself. The jazzy guitar solo in this piece is my favorite and of course I must give a shout out to the saxophone solo by David Albert Floratos for briefly sending Vintersea down the tracks of Rivers of Nihil on this song. That’s all folks, and time for you to check out this amazing band! Illuminated is out now through M-Theory Audio as well as on Bandcamp.