Winter's Verge

People generally tend to look towards Northern Europe when the words "Power Metal" are mentioned, […]
By Daniel Fox
December 20, 2015

People generally tend to look towards Northern Europe when the words "Power Metal" are mentioned, whether it be the melodic sensibilities of Sweden, the precise heaviness of age-old German juggernauts, or the bombastic symphony of Finnish composer masterminds. However, speak to a Cypriot metalhead about Power Metal and they'll be sure to start talking about the word of WINTER'S VERGE.

Formed in 2003 by their current vocalist, George Charalambous, the band have enjoyed relative break-out success outside of their home nation, with wide-spread international distribution, festival appearances and massive and well-deserved attention in the European metal theatre. Having released a full-length album every two years since 2006, the band has displayed that uncanny ability to improve exponentially after every consecutive release. "IV", taking an extra year to come out, displays the fruits of their more laboured efforts, and is, by far, their best material to date.

A massive devotee of the Scandinavian school of Power Metal, I am unashamedly used to massive melodies and sprawling symphonics, often dominated by powerful vocal hooks, usually delivered by the "wailing", operatic and vibrato-embellished (one might argue abuse) singers of the North. WINTER'S VERGE don't sound like Power Metal from any other region of the world, and are either going to be a treat or challenge. For me, initially, it was a combination of both. Admittedly, the previous album didn't do much to capture my attention; I didn't find as much memorable material in the riffs, arrangements or vocal passages as I had hoped. Being my first initial listening of the band, it would have been unfair to develop expectations for "IV", yet I did naturally; I would find out how much better it is to be pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed.

"Forsaken Damned Alone" is an example of 'that opener track', the eerie introduction preceding an explosive and ironically unexpected eruption, and an instant indicator that WINTER'S VERGE do NOT make "happy" metal; the epic tunes are overshadowed by something dark, and sometimes even grim. Easily the fastest piece on the record, even one of the heaviest, its ambitious placement in the tracklist does much to lay a foundation tapestry on which future tracks will be painted, and what an unpredictable, hard-to-map adventure it will be. My favourite track would soon follow in "Father's Vow", brimming with emotion, scattered with a few IRON MAIDEN-isms, delivered justly with the bardic voice of George, almost with a few Dickinson-like embellishments. Oddly enough, in the band's previous material, I couldn't tell if the vocals either lacked power, or simply weren't high enough in the mix. With "IV", however, neither of these preconceived notions were true. Not only does "Father's Vow" contain some of my favourite riffing in the record in the track's second movement, but the vocal performance is what makes it truly stand out.

With "Break Down the Walls" and "Nightmares on Tracks", my other two album-favourites, I start to become worried if "IV" is going to become a front-heavy album, which is often an end result of albums with the band's creativity expunged after the first few tracks. It's hard not to; the former breaks what could have turned into a rather dreadful monotony, with a series of uplifting melodies and decisive riffs; the decidedly euphoric build-up does not belie the epic and album-defining chorus that would follow. The latter stands out as the album's groove-laden riff monster and taking a more traditional, classic Heavy Metal approach, instead favouring technical riff-mastery instead of regurgitating unoriginal power chord motifs. Compared to the previous three offerings, and sandwiched between the gloriously 80's-like "We're Dust", the balladic "Legacy Of One" and the... 'Slightly less balladic' "Tears From A Glass Eye" almost feel like filler tracks. Although they are decent songwriting offerings in their own right, they simply have the unfortunate designation of paling in comparison to the exquisite songs occurring before and after. "We're Dust" sees the album develop into a different mood entirely; the bombastic 'Dark Metal' approach to the first half of the album seems to have taken a backburner, for a bicep-flexing, chest-hair-growing, melodic firespitter of a track with vocal deliveries that are impossible to forget.

Tables flipped and furniture scattered once again, "I Am One" rages upon us with a new-found aggression not previously featured in the earlier tracks, with a thick and meaty arrangement and masterful syncopation that highlights what are truly ferocious riffs, making some rather obvious Thrash Metal transgressions. In face of the album's remaining two tracks, "I Am One" -almost- feels out of place, at least if you're listening to the album with an order of progression in mind, because with "Reborn At Dawn", the album seems to be approaching full circle, bringing back the epic foreboding that dominated the first few powerhouses.  The song takes a slower approach, almost paced at a militaristic march, and brings around an extremely convincing vocal performance.

The lengthy monster that is "A Call From The Deep", brings that feeling of completing a cycle to the forefront, this time almost literally, with a sun ray escaping through the thick and grey cloud cover. The album's longest track by well over three minutes, threw me somewhat of a sonic bender. While my previous favourite offerings on the album wowed me over their technical execution, the album's closing piece might well be its masterpiece, appreciated for a myriad different reasons. Strongly keeping to the theme of the album, it could have easily belonged on some of metal's greatest Prog-Power masterpieces, the level of compulsion and energy put into the song's composition floors me. Running in a natural progression of a series of movements, regardless of whether or not this was meant to be a concept album, it ended with a suchlike level of epic conclusiveness.

Every time a band releases a new album, they're going to say it's the best thing they've ever written, and you'd expect them to. Usually, however, the proof of the pudding lies in the agreement of that fact among the fans, and I see no reason why "IV" wouldn't be hailed as WINTER'S VERGE's greatest achievement. If they are to continue their unbreakable cycle of self-improvement, future releases will have massive shoes to fill.

9 / 10

Almost Perfect

"IV" Track-listing:

1. Forsaken Damned... Alone
2. Father's Vow
3. Break Down the Walls
4. Nightmares on Tracks
5. Legacy of One
6. Tears From a Glass Eye
7. We're Dust
8. I Am One
9. Reborn At Dawn
10. A Call From the Deep

Winter's Verge Lineup:

George Charalambous - Vocals
Harrys Pari - Guitars
Andy Kopriva - Guitars

Miguel Trapezaris - Bass
Danny Koullis Georgiou Conway - Drums
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