Vintersea – Illuminated
Vintersea is a five-piece melodic death metal band from Oregon formed in 2016. In that time, they released two full-length albums and an EP. With two incredibly talented guitarists, an excellent drummer, a powerful bassist, and a singer capable of both beauty and beast vocals, they fit nicely into some of the better trends in extreme metal. They add technicality and precision to the music, creating sonic landscapes that are able to transport the listener to an almost trance-like state. They also mix in progressive metal, giving the band a wide range of tempos and textures to showcase their abundant skills. If social media is correct, they are in the process of making their third record.
- Avienne – Vocals
- Riley Nix – Guitars
- Jorma Spaziano – Guitars
- Karl Whinnery – Bass
- Jeremy Spencer – Drums
Illuminated was released on September 27th, 2019, via M-Theory Audio.
- Spawn Awakening
- Old Ones
- Crack Of Light
- Fiery Tongue
The album opens with “Spawn Awakening,” a heavy song that starts with full brutality on display. Twin guitar tones come in together and set the stage for blast beats, thundering bass, and the substantial growls of Avienne. That runs for a full minute before everything drops back, and we get melodic guitar tones that eventually welcome tempered rhythms and hauntingly beautiful vocalizations. This song is six minutes of back and forth, showing the progressive chops of the band and an ability to compose broad, far-reaching songs that defy standard convention. To hear the technical precision, just wait for the guitar solos. You won’t regret this.
The next track, “Old Ones,” begins melodic. Avienne has an incredibly husky, sultry clean voice, and her growls are sheer ferocity. The dual guitar interplay of Jorma and Riley shifts from frenzied to subdued, intricate to melodic. The rhythms go from bombastic to brutal and back. The leads that come in and out, and the variance in vocals, are all written for maximum effect, creating a soundscape intended to challenge the listener just to keep up and hear everything. Each pass through, you can catch something new.
The title track is next. “Illuminated” is the longest song on the record by one second. The opening riff is freaking delicious. This is one of the first songs I heard from Vintersea and is a big reason I got into them in the first place. This song is melodic death metal done right. The subtly increasing speed of the rhythm through the chorus, and the three tones on the guitar that are repeated throughout the song, are just phenomenal. The spoken word in the bridge adds to the song, as do the varied vocals after the spoken piece. Avienne uses her voice well, shifting registers in her cleans expertly. The layering of the various tones she uses works well within this composition.
“Crack Of Light” comes in second place for longest song, again only missing by a single tick of the clock. The track is slow and almost delicate when opening with static radio tones, then coming in gently with a single guitar. The drums start the process of taking the song to another level. An interlude of eerie vocalizations and haunting tones takes us to the first part of the climb. The voice goes harsh, the rhythm climbs a few more steps, and the song continues to build towards something.
Interestingly, there is another drop where something excellent is brought into play. A saxophone comes in and takes the song into a new area. The sax then hangs on, going into the subsequent rise in tempo. Another drop signifies an almost flamenco section. This is a massively bold song, going places few death metal bands dare. Bravo, Vintersea! Bringing the guitar back to an accelerated repeat of the saxophone line is a brilliant touch.
More brutality comes after the intro to “Fiery Tongue.” Jeremy is in the blast beat zone from the onset. Avienne’s vocals are chants that turn harsh, then come back. Karl’s bass powers the riff fantastically. The chants have an almost church choir feeling to them. Over that killer rhythm, the chanted vocals give an almost church-like feel to the tune. That is such an excellent contrast to the growls. Again, this bold composition challenges “convention” in a most extraordinary way.
The album wraps with “Befallen,” a five-minute song that starts melodic with the rhythm, heavy with the guitars, and brutal with the vocals. The ability of Vintersea to use different genres/tones in the same phrases is pretty impressive. They aren’t necessarily the only ones to do this, but they do it better than most. They also shift and have the rhythm go heavy while the guitars turn melodic. All of this makes the songwriting really stick out.
The guitar work is superb, whether Riley and Jorma are working in tandem or splitting the lead/rhythm/solo work between them. Karl and Jeremy are not always in lockstep with each other, but one is always setting the tempo with amazing precision. Avienne has one of the more distinctive clean voices with those throaty, husky tones she favors. She brings power with practiced technique when she goes into the soaring head or belted chest voice. Added together, this is a band of outstanding musicians who build a unit bigger than each individual’s contributions.
Vintersea is more than just a melodic death metal band. They feature so much more in each and every song. The progressive metal elements are stunning, and their dabbling in jazz, world, and fusion music gives them much more room to expand their soundscape; it’s almost unfair to other bands. This is a band capable of cutting a wide swath through the fabric of the metal scene. They defy categorization.
- Guitars – 10
- Rhythms – 10
- Vocals – 10
- Songwriting – 9
- Production – 9
- Overall – 9.60