The sound – courtesy of Steve Johnson’s production – is immense… It grabs you around the head and gets your attention like the musical equivalent of Judge Death opening his helmet visor on you.
It’s been a long time now since North-East of England prog-metal band Winter In Eden released an album – in fact, it is now getting on for eight years since their third release, Court Of Conscience, so the news of this fourth album was very welcome. Straight away the album title and cover artwork indicate something a little different from their previous releases, with the stark wintery art theme threading through the previous albums replaced by a far more colourful image seemingly indicating a sort of ‘science vs nature’ inspiration, with a wolf encountering a trick of reflection amid some electrical components and wiring. It’s intriguing and very beguiling to the eye and imagination, but also makes one wonder whether there will also be a shift in the band’s well-practised musical path. The good news on that front is that, despite some minor differences and tweaks to the formula, this is the Winter In Eden which you know and – hopefully, if you are reading this – love already.
Straight away, as the title track quickly builds up in intensity to beckon you in, one thing is readily apparent about this album. The sound – courtesy of Steve Johnson’s production – is immense. When Benji Lynch’s guitar comes in like a murderous buzzsaw and the band kick into gear, it doesn’t so much draw you in so much as let you know that if you don’t pay full attention to this right away, it will send the boys round to make sure you do. It grabs you around the head and gets your attention like the musical equivalent of Judge Death opening his helmet visor on you. Winter In Eden have always been capable of a full-on heavy attack, but this is on another level. And yet – and this is the trick of the band in a nutshell – the effortless melodic content of the music, with Vicky Johnson’s vocals straddling the tricky line between a punch in the face and an arm around the shoulder, ensures that it never feels like a one-dimensional metal assault. The lyrics, too, are bang on the real-life money, dispensing with any temptation to weave a fantasy-influenced tale, and delving into the issue of social pretence and deception. It’s real, it’s gritty, it’s heavy as an anvil dropped by Wile E Coyote, and it’s just a damn good tune as well. It’s also one of the very best songs Winter In Eden have ever produced, and if it doesn’t find itself opening their shows for a long time to come I will be very surprised. A blinding opener, and surely a case of hitting the listener with the best track first? Well, we’ll see about that shortly…
Never Let Go follows this, still riff-driven without quite the crushing metallic heft, and the melodic element is raised again, with the chorus redefining the band’s consistently impressive ability to blend a riff and a heavy rhythm section with a chorus that would not be out of place in the realms of a pure prog band such as Magenta. Getting those two elements to work together in a way which defies you to categorise the music is a very tricky thing to pull off, but they do it so naturally that it sounds as if they are all rolling gently off the proverbial log. Out Of Touch ratchets up the anthemic factor once again, with the added bonus of a superbly executed drop-down to a quiet interlude, facilitating an exhilarating use of context as the band come in and we spiral up toward the chorus again.
The album follows these parameters throughout most of its 40-minute length (the reassuring duration of an old vinyl album, and exactly the right length of time to absorb something in a single sitting – thankfully the days of CDs being bloated by extra material filling up the space have now receded). The ‘prog credentials’ are upped by the presence of the three-part conceptual piece Critical Mass, though once again we are rooted in the real world of human relationships, issues and problems. Blind Acceptance is another major highlight, with Silent Assassin giving us another welcome example of contrast and pacing as it is meticulously assembled. But wait – I did say something earlier about there being a rival to the title track I believe… and it comes in the shape of the closing song Exclusive Invitation. As I indicated, Social Fake itself is certainly one of my favourites among the band’s repertoire, along with Before It Began from the previous album, which has been my long-time pick. But damn it all if Exclusive Invitation doesn’t threaten to outdo the lot of them. This is one where, with its position wisely chosen as the album closer, all of the gloves are off when it comes to the big, uplifting, levitate-the-roof quality. Soaring backing vocals? You got them. Big, kitchen-sink production and instrumentation? Check. Marvellous chorus which could make a lump of clay join in just once? Yup, that’s here. This is a song which, great as it is on the record, will surely come into its own in live performance, when it seems certain it will have audiences bouncing along and hollering until their throats are sore. Listening to it, your powers to resist it collapse like Superman holding a suitcase full of green kryptonite. It’s molten gold, and might just be the anthem the band have been searching for to take the live shows to that extra level.
To sum things up, if you happened to harbour a desire to see Winter In Eden take a whole new musical path and pursue their ‘jazz odyssey’, well then you will be resolutely unsatisfied here, If, on the other hand, you want to hear a band doing what they do well, and doing it better and more effortlessly than they have ever done so before, then come on in. And if you are new to the Eden Experience but have a liking for powerful, heavy rock music shot through with a life-affirming sense of melody and the joyous release of music for its own sake, then this is the band for you. This is pretty much all killer, and assuredly zero filler. Just please, don’t make us wait until 2030 for the next one, guys!