Hailing from oft-overlooked Kalamazoo, Michigan, the band originally known as The Ancient changed their name to Winterus and released this new full-length studio album, “In Carbon Mysticism.”
The album is an intriguing exploration of some of the farther corners of common territory between black and death metal. While not exactly revolutionary on either count, Winterus manages to cover a curious bit of ground through a combination of intricate layering and deceptively simple progressions.
Winterus has been drawing comparisons to Behemoth and Agalloch, although both are slightly off the mark. Not as consistently brutal as the former or as progressively composed as the latter, Winterus instead began with the basic concepts of black metal and wove within them the tenets of death metal, early Darkthrone-style speed metal and just a pinch of groove.
“No Rest” is a prime example of what Winterus has to offer. While the song does offer a cacophony of percussive blast beats, the entire song is covered over by simple guitar tropes that are instantly recognizable to mainstream metal fans. This effect, replicated across several tracks on the album, is what keeps the songs from plummeting to their ugly death on a rocky shore of undecipherable noise.
Just about half of “In Carbon Mysticism,” is instrumental, and it is on these tracks that the band truly shines. “Moonlust,” right in the middle of the album, is a borderline brilliant piece, serving both as the album’s figurative apex and most consistent performance. The accessible guitar and constant but production-subdued drums lend the song an atmosphere of marching to break a castle siege under star cover, and just when the track almost strays too far, the rhythm comes back to start the cycle over. It’s hard to get this cut out of your head once it has worked its way in.
The other cut that is worth noting for its prowess is “Through the Mist,” which was recorded live for the purposes of this album. As a result, the listener has to forgive the production for sounding extremely hollow, but for those with the patience to sort through it all, this last track of “In Carbon Mysticism,” is a quality cut. Where Winterus excels during this last piece is in layering. They successfully use converging and diverging harmony to make the song sound fuller than it is, creating a grander spectacle to the observer.
For those keeping track, if half of “In Carbon Mysticism” is instrumental, that naturally means the other half isn’t. Which means ‘here comes the bad news’: while Winterus impresses with their instrumental thoughtfulness, they are not as adept when adding vocals. With the exception of “Reborn,” which is kept afloat by a unique mixture of heavy drums and oddly sanguine (and again, accessible) guitar, most of the other vocal tracks either get lost within themselves, or worse yet, become generic.
“Eternal Ghost” and “Christ Reign” both fall into the latter category, as the musical idea never develops beyond a good bit of thrashing about and some typical death metal howling. It is in these lesser moments where “In Carbon Mysticism” feels like an incomplete or at best unpolished idea.
Winterus’ new album ends up resulting in a split decision. For lack of a more eloquent descriptor, the good tracks are really good. Unfortunately, the bad tracks are ultimately forgettable, and on the album, there’s an equal number of each. The spots where the band mixes tried-and-true archetypes of speed metal with new-school black metal tropes are enough to give them the benefit of the doubt because of the talent that shines through.