Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gates Of Winter - "Lux Aeterna" Review!!

Today marks the two year anniversary of our first monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, which was of Gates of Winter's 2005 debut EP. In honour of the two year mark, and because keyboardist Brian Holmes is rocking the area this month with his progressive rock band Machines Dream, we're finally reviewing Gates of Winter's first full length album "Lux Aeterna"! Released in January 2008 after an earlier intentional torrent leak, it was recorded in 2007 at Stereo Soul Studios with producers Lee Maines and Miguel Gauthier, who also mixed and engineered the album. The lineup present on "Lux Aeterna" included Lee Maines on vocals & rhythm guitar, Bryan Belleau on lead guitar, bassist Steve Furgiuele, then-keyboardist Brian Holmes, and Jonathan Harvey on drums, though he left Gates of Winter before the album's release, so he's only credited as performing the drum tracks. "Lux Aeterna" is currently out of print, but CD copies of the album do pop up online, and CD Baby & iTunes are among the online storefronts with mp3 downloads of the album, so check the above links to officially pick it up! Local retailers probably won't have "Lux Aeterna" in stock, but check The Rad Zone just in case, as you never know!

And yes, the album is easily available free through torrent sites and such, but support the band and buy "Lux Aeterna", even if they've been largely inactive in recent years! The whole album (including the scrapped 10th song "Torment") is also available on YouTube, and each song name below is linked to a YouTube upload of it for preview purposes. With 9 songs and around 51 minutes of music, this is full of material, but how does it measure up three years later? Let's find out, starting with track 1, "Life Force Rapture"! (Updated on September 28th, 2012)

"Life Force Rapture" starts the album off in grand fashion, and not just because it's the longest song on "Lux Aeterna"! After a slow building start of mixed up noises, the song kicks off with some heavy symphonic metal with a very nice melody and nice complimentary keyboard work. Not brutally heavy, but it works early! Lee Maines shows off his improved clean singing abilities, which sound more confident than on their 2005 EP, including the first taste of growling we'd see more on this album than in the past. His growling was a nice addition to the song, but he's not as clear at it than on the newer samples. More of an epic metal song than some later tracks, "Life Force Rapture"'s lyrical content seems to reference the journey of death, and the song fits the mood with a melodic and intricate atmosphere that makes heaviness just an element of the overall grand scheme of the song. Bryan Belleau's guitar work is awesome, especially on his guitar solo, and Steve Furgiuele's bass work shines here as it will on later songs! The song ends with a band with a hard charging ending that, though sounding somewhat muffled, does satisfy one's craving for brutal metal, so uch that the keyboard playing takes away from the ending somewhat. Great opening song, though if it was a but heavier, it could stand out even more!

Next on "Lux Aeterna" is the band's 16 minute-plus "Burning Kingdom" trilogy, broken up into three separate (though connected) songs. First is "Burning Kingdom I: A Dark Affliction", which is much heavier on the whole than "Life Force Rapture", and it hits you right from the first note! The riffs are pounding, but still melodic with some nice keyboard playing, and Lee's singing in the verses works well as he puts a harsher spin on his clean vocals! Joining him on vocals here is guest singer Jody Lynn Bedard, whose vocals on the choruses are nice and give the song a more gothic feel, but the live versions with Lee handling all the chorus work are honestly heavier. Jon Harvey's drumming is fast and varied here, and the band sound like a complete unit throughout! Midway through, after a catchy keyboard solo, Jody offers some really nice solo singing that shows off her singing voice really well, that part really adds something! The final verse shows Gates of Winter at their heaviest, with Lee growling the remainder of his vocals, ending things on a brutal note, though the ending after the chorus sort of drags. Another standout song, "A Dark Affliction" builds on the feel of "Life Force Rapture" and ensures that the heaviness grows with the talent as we flow into part two of the "Burning Kingdom" trilogy!

Then, we have "Burning Kingdom II: Heavenly Insurgence", which starts with a softer progressive metal opening with some soft well played guitar and nice bass playing from Steve Furgiuele before the song ramps up the heaviness, though it sounds oddly muffled. The song makes an interesting mix of progressive metal riffs and alternating vocal styles, with Lee going from soft clean singing to harsher choruses to supplemental growling at will. The music has a nice galloping quality at parts, but the prodcution lowers the volume too much. Bryan Belleau's doing great on this track though, his lead playing is awesome and fast, and his talent is clearly visible! It seems like the lyrics, though well written, are a secondary thought here, as the song places more emphasis on the music, and it does it well, as it's a very well played and detailed song that deserves a listen! It also really compliments "A Dark Affliction" well, they do feel interconnected, though I wish the production could have done more for the heaviness of the track.

The "Burning Kingdom" trilogy closes with "Burning Kingdom III: Lux Aeterna", which is also the album's title track and the first of two instrumentals on the CD. Lux Aeterna means "the eternal light" in Latin, and the feel of this song is similarly vibrant. It definitely feels like an extension of "Heavenly Insurgence", and without vocals, you can feel the atmosphere of the song even more, especially early on before it gets heavy. Again, the song suffers in production with a muffled sound that doesn't accentuate the heavier sections like it should, but "Lux Aeterna" oozes with Gates of Winter's talent and detailed abilities! Bryan and Lee's guitar melodies are at full force, Brian's keyboard work compliments everything well, and the song even has a fitting end to the trilogy that helps wrap things up in a proper way! "Lux Aeterna" (the song) showcases Gates of Winter at their musical best, though I'd be curious to see how they could add vocals to continue the story set forth in the first two songs in the trilogy. Myself, I personally liked "A Dark Affliction" the best, but it's best to listen to all three songs in a row, as they were intended, and as how they were played live!

The album's midway point comes with track 5, "The Wildwood Pariah", which is also the shortest and softest song on "Lux Aeterna". Taking the form of a deep conversation between the pariah of earlier songs and a mysterious child, it has a great dark atmosphere and it's well played, but despite it's length, it drags. A minute of the song is basically just guitar playing & assorted samples, which are affecting but don't add to the song in my opinion. I'd want to see the band expand on this track with more variance and some more singing, especially for the choruses sung by "the child". I know it's supposed to be a different person, but the voice used doesn't match the intended character. Nice softer song, but it doesn't feel finished. Things pick back up on "Winter Flight", which starts with some faster prog metal riffing and catchy melodies. Brian's keyboard work is great here too, he adds something a lot to this material, especially on his fast keyboard solo later in the track! The flaw with this song is with the vocals, which are all way too soft for the track. Lee's softer voice is used way too much for material this heavy, but I should add that in 2008 performances of this song, his singing of it was much more aggressive and rangier. Here though, it sounds mostly mailed in, though some harsher moments make it in later in the song. It's a very good song though, with a feeling of flight throughout and some great individual performances, but the live versions show Lee's vocals off much better.

Seventh on the CD is the band's own self-titled song "Gates of Winter", which is the album's other instrumental. Compared to "Lux Aeterna", this one feels more like a complete song from top to bottom, but the lack of a direct connection to other songs helps in that regard. The band are given almost 4 minutes to show off their skills, and to me, Steve and Brian are the highlights of this instrumental. Steve gets a lot more solo time here than on earlier tracks to show off his exceptional abilities, and Brian's playing is a warm glow to the song to give it some orchestral feel that I always welcome! Jonathan's drumming is solid as well, but the guitar could have been better. Nice playing from Lee and Bryan, but there's no guitar solos here or standout moments amidst the rest of the band. That said, the production's better at showing the band's heavier side, so I like that! Very nice instrumental, heavier than before, but it could have been a bit longer with some more solos.

It's followed by "From The Flesh", which was actually co-written by former Gates of Winter drummer Kevin Overton! The opening of the song is heavy and progressive, one of my favourite song starters on the CD! Seeming to talk about a move from good to evil, "From The Flesh" is an awesome song full of some of the band's darkest moments on "Lux Aeterna", with Lee's singing getting heavier and more evil with each passing verse! The song sounds and feels very heavy, and the band are playing to their metal best on this track, though with the requisite progressive flourish that never hurts! The keyboard playing adds to the song, Jonathan's drumming is on fire, and the pseudo-screams add some anguish to the verses as well! Top to bottom, this is probably the heaviest song on "Lux Aeterna", and I think it sort of flew under the radar in later years, so definitely give it a listen! "Lux Aeterna" closes with "Omega", a slow orchestral metal number that definitely closes the CD on a dark and heavy note! In ways, it eschews technicality for the overall feel of the song, which has a very definitive feeling of finality. Brian's keyboard playing is amazing here, and he gives a great orchestral feel to the song, with Lee's passioned singing and some doomier guitar work helping make this song stand as an epic of it's own! Though over 6 minutes long, it never seems to drag, and the singing doesn't get repetitive, adding to a very heavy and satisfying capper to "Lux Aeterna"!

So, what are my overall thoughts on "Lux Aeterna"? Well, first off, it blows their 2005 EP out of the water! I liked their EP for what it was, but the production quality, singing, abilities, and presence of actual drumming were all radically improved upon by 2008. Aside from that, the album is just a great work of progressive metal from five talented musicians! Lee Maines' singing was radically improving, especially for the inclusion of death growling, while he and Bryan Belleau's guitar work stood out on most tracks, especially with Bryan's lead work and solos! Steve Furgiuele proved why he was one of our most accomplished bassists on the album too, he was great on each track, as was Brian Holmes on keyboard, who rarely took away from songs with his symphonic playing! Jonathan Harvey's drum work was awesome too, though it's still a shame he left Gates of Winter, he was a great fit for them! I enjoyed "Lux Aeterna" from top to bottom as a great progressive metal album, especially on tracks like "From The Flesh" and "A Dark Affliction", which perfectly united brutality and technically sound instrumentation!

That said, it has some flaws. "The Wildwood Pariah", again, felt unfinished, and certain longer songs did drag longer than they should have. Lyrically, though impressive, the band skimped a bit on some songs, with some very nice songs featuring minimal lyrical accompaniment when they deserved more. I'd also liked to have seen Jody Lynn Bedard's backup singing used on a couple more tracks, cause she did add something when used! My biggest complaint is how many of the heavier songs sound muffled, which I assume is from the production. I have and listened to the original CD for my review, so it's not a copy quality issue, just some heavier riffs sound quieter and less impactful than they should. Other than that, this is a fantastic metal album that deserves they hype that it got 3 years ago! Things have been slow since for album recording, but from what I understand, Gates of Winter's next album will be heavier, darker, and will have more of a death metal influence. If that's the case, than even this CD may yet be topped, but knowing the slowness of activity and word, I just hope that the lyrics of "Omega" don't ring true and make "Lux Aeterna" "the last goodbye". Still, I highly recommend "Lux Aeterna" as one of my favourite local metal albums, and give it a listen at the above links!

I hope you guys liked this month's reviews, especially considering that it's loooooong overdue. What's being reviewed next month though? I have no clue yet. I hope it will be a newly released CD of some kind, but that depends on bands to release one by next month. If none do, I'll dip into the archives again, but for which album? Unlike the last two months, I'm not positive, as I have yet to figure out if any bands I wanna review have members playing locally next month. I have a few bands in mind, but I will say that the next review won't be of anything by Foothill Road or Woods of Ypres (too soon from my last reviews of theirs) or Theatre of Night (I'm saving them for Christmas time, as the album is seasonal.) I also welcome old EPs I don't have if you have copies to lend/give/sell me (i.e. As It Stands or Infrastrate.) Still looking, I'd be grateful if anyone could help! So the August CD review is up in the air, but stay tuned for updates, as well as a HUGE news post tomorrow featuring a LOCAL CONCERT ALERT for The Dreammaker's Theater at Kewadin Casino! Which big name act is coming here now? Stay tuned tomorrow for details! Thanks everyone!

No comments: