It was a few years or so ago that I first saw WINTERTHRALL live in Hollywood. Then and each time since they have always been impressive and their demo “Autumn Caskets” was a little gem I got a hold of after one of the shows. So, with that history, I was eager to get a hold of the Orange County, California native’s new full length album “Nightmares For The Sleepless”. It can go both ways with bands: sometimes great live acts leave a lot to be desired when recording and others produce sublime albums and bore you to tears live. I already know WINTERTHRALL can bring it live, so what about their new record? In a word: brilliant.
“Nightmares For The Sleepless” is a searing, soaring release packed with fantastic material from start to finish. Like any great Black Metal album, the backbone to the record are sensationally technical and signature tremolos rhythms done in that almost classical sound that make the hairs on your neck stand up in attention. It isn’t even just the proficiency with how these slashing notes are played, but the mixture of them WINTERTHRALL manage to weave into every song that makes the whole album a joy to listen to. Guitarists Steve Nelson and Josh Standifer do a stellar job of interlacing these parts with some cool soloing and breaks. Nelson also handles the vocals on the album and does a fine job of primarily maintaining a Black Metal scream without it coming close to oft annoying underground BM screeches, while also throwing in some tasty Death growls for good measure. Rob Alaniz’s drumming keeps the band surging through the album’s onslaught along with bassist Ruben Lugo, both providing a platform for the afore mentioned intricate and singing guitar work.
Another dimension to the album is the nice pace and tone changes accomplished through piano, acoustic guitar work and some ethereal sounds played through synth guitar work. What makes them a good fit is they are never overbearing and are used only to give the album a skilfully worked grim tenor which bands so often rely too much on. There is a good, short example of this during the blistering “Edifice Of Betrayal” which is shortly followed by a melodic solo that adds another dimension to the song. After a female siren call at the beginning of “In Frozen Apathy” the band slows a bit to produce an ever slightly more Blackened Death sound, mixing the ghostly ladies voice throughout with the assured pace and weight of the song.
Probably the most Death Metal grounded sound in the album is one you might miss unless you look for it. Once the primary grip of Black Metal is thrust forward in “The Audient Void” there is a roughly 6 or 7 minute silence which is broken with a more solid crunch and note accents of Death Metal, although Nelson does stay primarily to his BM vocals. It is nice to know there are good bands in the area you live and being able to see them release quality work is a bonus. “Nightmares For The Sleepless” is such an album, and quite honestly is the best Black Metal album I’ve heard all year. Supposedly WINTERTHRALL will be back in the studio soon to record another full length record. I can’t wait.
(Online August 8, 2007)