Ancient Wolves: Haunted Winter

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Ancient Wolves: Haunted Winter
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Ancient Wolves: Haunted Winter
Doom Metal, Power Metal, Progressive Metal
Self-release
January, 2011
Release length: 50:12
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Ancient Wolves is an unsigned Heavy/Progressive Metal act that formed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which is basically my backyard. However, it wasn’t until a friend of mine had filled me in about this group that I was even made aware of their existence. But what drew me to this group was learning their female lead vocalist was no more then sixteen at the time of recording the album. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked, and a review copy of the album made it’s way into my grubby little mits. Unfortunately, the rather tacky artwork that was a shot of the roofs of two houses with power line poles, trees, the hills of “the valley”, and a church tower I’m well aware of made it painfully obvious what was in store: An independent album that had promise, but not the strongest execution.

Obvious comparisons to female fronted acts such as Nightwish could be made about this group, but the music does largely stem from a modern Heavy Metal sound with plenty of Progressive elements thrown into the bridges and sudden transitions in the music. For what the material is, it’s honestly not that bad. The instruments all seem to come through wreally well. The drums are all the right levels for each part of the kit, the guitars are heavy, and the bass is pretty strong in the mix. The keyboards near the end of the album on “Hunt Through the Night,” however, are very low in volume, are weak, and really seem to contribute nothing in the moments they appear, which is the only time they show on the entire release. While some of the Progressive shifts often feel tacked on, the band shines nicely with it’s more aggressive Heavy Metal output, such as with “What Have We Become,” a faster offering that shines through during it’s Heavy Metal elements by adding a strong aggression to the chugging music, especially when it picks up the pace for the chorus and becomes a rather technical, commanding track. However, the slower Progressive elements ultimately come off a little tacked on, and gives it more of a gothic ballroom feel bands like Stolen Babies might incorporate into their music. It wouldn’t be so bad had it actually fit the majority of the song’s presence, but it doesn’t and simply derails the flow.

Vocally, the album pretty much makes every track a duet. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the male and female vocals had some harmonization when layered over each other. The two clash horribly due to the normal male vocals against the very soft, higher pitched female vocals. “Soon Be Damned” utilizes more Progressive Metal techniques, showing off a strong point for the band, and the duet also works out for what it is thanks to a powerful male performance, while the female clean singing is not as rich, a bit off key, and ends up sounding horrible. “The Doctor” really stands as the strong point of the album, taking full advantage of everything the band offers. The music is a little muddy when coupled with the more upbeat atmosphere. The lighter male vocals are richer, but need definitely required more enunciation, often coming off like gibberish with the other singer providing back-up. This actually works in their favor though, giving it more of a party Rock vibe that seems at home with the Progressive Material foundation. “Everything Stands for Nothing” sounds good and shows where the female vocals work in favor of the album. The slower music of the track allows the softer vocals to compliment performance in a stronger manner without being so high in pitched like every other song, The heavier moments are handled with the richer male singing, leading to a great sharing of vocal duties in the song, mixed with some decent softer, ballad-like music.

While the music of the recording sounds good, the songs can just come off bland. For the most part, it’s not the most exciting or unique experience. Some songs, like “Keeper of His Legacy” and “Island of the Spirits” manage to utilize all the instruments well and push the songs through with a heavy atmosphere that has a little more going for the song, showing some great enthusiasm to the tracks, though the transitions throughout could have been better. However, some songs, like “Haunted Winter”, seem to lack that enthusiasm and ultimately just sound boring and generic despite how well executed they are. While the instruments themselves come through great most of the time, the production on this can be a bit too high pitched here and there, and “Keeper of His Legacy” does suffer from this. This will cause you to want to lower the volume of Haunted Winter almost immediately. This also causes many of the issues in the female vocals that have been mentioned. While not the worst out there, they end up weak and frail from it. The harmonization issue stems largely from the lack of power or passion in the performance, coming off extremely generic, as well as lower in the mix.

So, with all that said, what does it all boil down to for Haunted Winter? Well, while the physical presentation gives off an amateur feeling (though is no way considered in the final score of this review), the production gets the levels right, but the quality is arguable and often too high pitched. The muddied presentation often sounds good, but not always effective. The vocals aren’t great, the harmonization is atrocious, the female vocals are weak, but a lot of this could have been remedied with a better production, as well as effort on her part. Some tracks show the band is capable making some catchy material, though they do need to work on transitioning between passages and even segwaying between the Heavy Metal and Progressive Metal styles. It’s an applaudable debut full-length for the group that clearly has some problems, and after meeting with the drummer and hearing about their plans from a common friend, the group is clearly rather ambitious. But, perhaps that’s the downfall of this recording and why some of the music isn’t as interesting as it could be. Maybe the group just tackled everything too fast. Having more confidence than they should at this point would explain a lot, but at the same time it’s not an excuse if that’s really the reason. Haunted Winter isn’t a horrendous album at all, often showing great promise.

01. Keeper of His Legacy – 2:31
02. Black Rain – 4:57
03. What Have We Become – 4:37
04. Soon Be Damned – 5:03
05. Haunted Winter – 4:46
06. Island of the Spirits – 4:06
07. The Doctor – 4:04
08. Everything Stands for Nothing – 4:37]
09. This Will be Our Fate – 6:13
10. Hunt Through the Night – 3:57
11. Slow Moving Train – 5:21
Overall Score: 5.5/10

Physical review copy of this release provided by Ancient Wolves.