Ancient Wolves: Haunted Winter (2012)

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Ancient Wolves: Haunted Winter (2012)
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Ancient Wolves: Haunted Winter (2012)
Doom Metal, Power Metal, Progressive Metal
Self-released
April, 2012
Release length: 48:41
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Not long after the 2011 version of Haunted Winter, Ancient Wolves incorporated a new vocalist (Gail Shirk) and brought the group down from a five piece to a four member outfit. It’s been a little over a year now, and the group have come back to re-record their debut. Clearly the intent was to have a stronger production value, as well as to have the music reflect the latest members, as well as the growth since it dropped. But, does this rendition of the album work in favor of the group, or does the better production highlight new issues within the group not quite obvious in the first mix?

Again, the members of Ancient Wolves went ahead and recorded this effort independently. Like usual for indie acts, it does show in the mix. The guitars are pushed back a bit, though still have a nice clarity in the recording. The distortion is your traditional Power Metal sound, having a decent sharpness to it, though a little deepetr. The bass is pretty loud and easy to pick up on, giving another layer to the music that is quite beneficial thanks to it’s moderately low tone that keeps the album grounded, and really pushes the rhythm of the material. The vocals are solid, coming through pretty clear, though could have been podded up a bit more to keep them from being drowned out as much as they are. There are some effects utilized to push them away from the forefront at certain points, such as the chorus of “Keeper of His Legacy.” Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Aside the cymbals being a little lower than they should, the drums come through fantastic. The nice thicker sound to the snares, and loud, tight click to the kicks that is simply superb, making many of the tracks sound full.

But, even though the audio quality is pretty good, there are still some gripes to be found. Aside what’s mentioned above, the distortion on the guitars can be a little grating to listen to when the focus is largely on that instrument. “Haunted Winter” is a prime example, having an introduction that sounds like certain chords are slightly off, as well as setting up the rest of “Electric Eye” by Judas Priest. There’s also the blistering guitar solos that simply don’t need such great speed or intensity, and effectly hurt the atmosphere, or even can just be wretched like the ones during “Island of the Spirits.” A different effect, such as having some cleaner chords come in for these passages, would have worked wonders. Next is the drumming, which isn’t too bad, but can sometimes leave the music a little too empty, as well as lack a good deal of fluidity in the bass kicks, having a nice tempo to the main passages, but then you’ll have a sudden knee-jerk shift into something like four near machine-gun speed kicks, an example from “Island of the Spirit” that really is jarring to the rhythm that the bass tries to keep alive. If not that, then just leaving the music rather empty such as during the guitar solo of “Slow Moving Train.” Unfortunately, of all the issues, this becomes the biggest headache considering how horrible these errors can sound, but thankfully not all that prominant.

Amid these obvious issues, this rendition of Haunted Winter still has some really catchy material. “Keeper of His Legacy” is just pure infectious Power Metal. The chugging approach brings in a good deal of musical attitude, working well with the clean female vocals. It also segways in fluidly to a much lighter chorus of simple chords and drumming, allowing the vocals to fill things up a little more, and bring in some extra emotion to the chorus that instantly hooks the listener. This makes it a song you’ll catch yourself singing at random times even when the music isn’t playing. “The Doctor” makes for a nice throwback to the days of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal mixed together, taking on a lighter tone with melodic hooks, and really allowing the production on the drums to shine through with well executed bass kicks that hammer away. The vocals match the tone and era the track seems to go for well, packing a little more attitude behind them everywhere but the chorus, which takes on more of a glamorous approach that works for the slower, yet still dominant composition. Unfortunately, the audio sample at the very start is pretty loud, but this is more a cosmetic issue than anything and will not ruin the experience. There’s also “Island of the Spirit,” which does have it’s quirks as outlined earlier, but it takes on a much lighter role, as if inspired by mainstream acts like Hailstorm, but still retaining a sufficient Metal edge with slower material prior to the more emotional chorus. Unfortunately, the bass kicks here really hold the it back, coming off a little too slow and open for what the band is going for.

Those really do make up the real attention grabbing cuts. This doesn’t mean the rest of the release is filler though, instead just goes off into different territory. “Hunt Through the Night” is an enjoyable slower paced track that really focuses on the singing. It tries to weave a decent atmosphere, and does it well in a toned down manner that is rather soothing, though the additional male vocals give it a slightly darker tone that disrupts that zen vibe, but works to give it a darker tone. This slowly paves the way for some random Doom Metal style material, such as the following “This Will Be Our Fate.” This somewhat sludgy, bass-driven, slower paced effort sounds great, showing off the dexterity of the group thanks to the catchy and haunting riffs that give this more of an occultish vibe that bands like The Devil’s Blood possess. The faster material that kicks in after the half way point comes off awkwardly thin for some reason, but does go off into what is like a bad acid trip, fittings perfectly with the atmosphere, especially during the solo. But of all the songs towards the end, it’s “Black Rain” that stands out the most. Again, this mid-tempo track finds a more relaxing atmosphere due to the lighter riffs, a very well suiting guitar solo, as well as more emotional clean singing. In fact, there also seems to be a bit of a Native American cultural vibe to the music being performed. All tying together to make this one a song you really must hear.

So, is the 2012 version of Haunted Winter any better? Yes, it is. Ancient Wolves have taken advantage of the better audio quality, and the lead vocals here are a lot stronger. Aside some issues in the band’s choices of distortion and drum build ups in the music, as well as some issues in the leveling, you can really feel the growth they have made in such a short time span. Haunted Winter offers plenty of catchy material throughout, though the ones that make the most energetic impact lie at the start. Of course, the latter half ends up a mixed bag of good offerings, and suprisingly well done tracks that five a unique take on the band’s approach. If you can look past the cosmetic issues, what you’ll find here is a band with plenty of potential, and an album well worth checking out.

01. Keeper of His Legacy – 2:33
02. The Doctor – 3:56
03. Haunted Winter – 4:45
04. Island of the Spirit – 4:13
05. Hunt Through the Night – 4:14
06. This Will Be Our Fate – 4:31
07. Everything Stands for Nothing – 4:30
08. Soon Be Damned – 5:04
09. Black Rain – 4:58
10. What Have We Become – 4:38
11. Slow Moving Train – 5:22
Overall Score: 7/10


Physical review copy of this release provided by Ancient Wolves.