In the past 20 years that bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch have been pioneering a shade of the American black metal sound, a few interesting things have happened: black metal got cool1 and, as such, has continued to add new notches into its total allowable expressions. Youthful bands, who likely grew up finding out about these bigger names alongside other 00s music trends, have erupted with melodic and even fairly accessible2 atmospheres defining their modern vision of what black metal can be. These visions can feel a little kitchen sink at times, but that doesn’t stop acts like Vintersea from continuing to try and find that special melodic thread that binds their wide-ranging influences together. Who needs corpse paint anyway?
Hailing from the beautiful and often wet Pacific Northwest of the United States, Oregon-based Vintersea aims to enchant with their genre salad approach to melodic black metal with their third outing Woven into Ashes. Though the hypnosis of Vintersea‘s approach here largely lies in enchanting refrains that open and persist throughout each track, guitarists Riley Nix and Jorma Spaziano aren’t afraid to throw down chunky melodeath riffs reminiscent of Gossow-era Arch Enemy (“Devil’s Churn,” “At the Gloaming Void”). Additionally, the arpeggiated lines that pepper the background of slow-growing numbers “Crescent Eclipse” and “Parallel Duality” flow and crescendo with the harmonized brightness of a triumphant Devin Townsend lick. Jekyll and Hyde vocalist Avienne Low ties this all together with her smoothly shifting alt-rock croon and multi-modal harsh assault. None of this deviates far from what Vintersea offered on 2019’s Illuminated, but at a more expansive runtime, Woven into Ashes has a little more to prove.
Where melodic black metal can stumble with trem-infested guitarwork that gives little else, the Nix and Spaziano duo trade chord carry and solo highlights aplomb to keep Woven into Ashes on the forward march. “Unveiling Light” opens the discourse with a Fallujah-minded whammy harmonic dance, continuing to use that play to announce shifts between trem-washed shrieking verses and open ring alt-rock choruses. And on the gentler side, the pair tip-toe glassy-toned swells with ease, even taking on the noble task of trading off with pan flute solos on “Lonesome Tide.” But don’t let these moments fool you—in traditional pit-swirling fashion, step-shifted guitar fury rears its furious head when Low reaches deep for her most vicious gutturals (“At the Gloaming Void,” “No Tomorrow”). No matter what else happens on Woven into Ashes, the guitarwork that Vintersea‘s axe-slingers deliver continuously entertains.
Though Vintersea largely succeeds at captivating me for the full run-time, some production choices rip me out of easy listening on more than one occasion. It’s not uncommon for music in this more mid and treble-focused lane to eschew a bass fullness, but on heavier numbers, outside of the kick and a very, very strange synth bass pulse (“Devil’s Churn,” “At the Gloaming Void,” “No Tomorrow”), poor Karl Whinnery’s low-string rumbles remain uncomfortably audible. And outside of those weird bass moments, the urgent synth orchestrations at large (“Crescent Eclipse,” “At the Gloaming Void”) take up space with an unconvincing digital whimper. I do understand that the mix aims to leave a lot of space at the center to allow Low’s powerful—if sometimes a bit strained when clean (“Parallel Duality,” “Into the Horizon”)—vocals to shine. But in passages absent of her, the void could benefit from having these discouraged elements brought more into the light, which Vintersea does manage through some of monster closer “No Tomorrow”—not as often as I would like.
Despite any shortcomings though, it’s hard to turn off Woven into Ashes without the adventure feeling incomplete. Vintersea‘s most compelling traits—nimble guitarwork, diverse and propelling vocals, a quiet sense of bombast—do enough heavy lifting to make their story necessary. My Itchy colleague may have underrated the similarly minded release from Dawn of Ouroboros this year, but it’s easy to see why outfits like them and Vintersea have a hard time making an impact. Prospective fans often may find more immediate enjoyment out of singular and focused moods and tones that act, instead, as the left and right flippers for these black metal pinball excursions. However, if you’re willing to be tossed around a little by the spry musings of a hungry artist, Woven into Ashes will string you along an enjoyable, melodic journey.