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Friday, September 04, 2009

CD Review: Winds of Plague - The Great Stone War

Winds of Plague - The Great Stone War
2009 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

2009's vote for most-improved band would have to go to Upland, California's Winds of Plague.

Though already on their second album last year with their Century Media debut Decimate the Weak, Winds of Plague at times decimated themselves with implosions of too many ideas and too little structure. Add to the mix scattershod breakdowns which fully interrupted songs in the midst of their steam, and frankly, only the younger demographics addicted to chugging skids had something to cheer about.

Winds of Plague are onto something, to be fair, even if so many others, past, present and future are as well. Their attempts to bridge fantasy realms and equivocal symphonies of valor brings Dark Tranquility to mind, as well as Nightwish, Dimmu Borgir and Skyfire, all representatives of varying latitudes of orchestral-tapestried metal. In other words, Winds of Plague have more than their share of competitors, which means if they want to not only capture sn audience but stay relevant, they would have to jack their efforts from the overambitious and undisciplined Decimate the Weak.

Fortunately for this group, their third album The Great Stone War does exactly that. While they refuse to part ways with the stereotyped whumping breakdowns (if you want a prime, recent example of a good breakdown which serves its main rhythm and is heavier than anything the entire clan of youngsters can churn out, go to Megadeth's "How the Story Ends" from their upcoming album Endgame), what Winds of Plague has learned this time around is to let them seep into the overall flow of their caustic blares, at least during the first half of the album.

The Great Stone War is bookended by a narrative clash against usurping demigods storyline which is actually quite welcome from a generation spent in awe of Lord of the Rings, while its predecessors were reared on Conan the Barbarian and Heavy Metal magazine and bands such as Manowar and Armored Saint comparatively. Metal was bred on this stuff. This is the here and now, however, and after a solid spoken introduction "Earth" setting the stage for assured metallic mayhem thereafter, Winds of Plague wastes not a lick of time clouting their listeners upon the head with the traditionally-titled "Forged in Fire." A little Anvil, anyone?

Supplemented by symphonic compositions and note-frolicking piano, "Forged in Fire" mashes everything in sight before halting their booming grind into a slowed-up breakdown to at least end the song instead of flat-out disrupt it. Throughout The Great Stone War, Winds of Plague pounds and pounds and pounds some more usually on a straightlaced track, but also with a typical propensity for blast beat tackling and of course, those plentiful, frustrating breakdowns.

At least Winds of Plague are learning as they go and getting damned near close to perfection. When they pause their heavy-fisted tempos with breakdowns, they've coated them with highly busy string sections or keyboard tapestries. "Soldiers of Doomsday" is a mostly exciting stampdown session, while the gradually-sculpting "Approach the Podium" inherits a plethora of chimes and external synth textures to coat up the song's doom grind. Again the song ends on a breakdown, but it does manage to carry a gusty set of strings along the way. Despite the monotonous breakdowns which prevent the tune from gaining full strength, "Classic Struggle" (possibly the tune most listeners will clutch onto) does benefit greatly from fugue organs at times.

Winds of Plague's apocalyptic story about an earthly battleground for Orc-like hellhounds versus farflung knights set in a modern age is strictly pulp, but Par Oloffson's lavish artwork, which would be fitting upon a contemporary triptych, much less a folded CD inlay is gorgeous and perfectly realized for The Great Stone War's battle of the damned plot. At least you have swords to visualize in midair as Winds of Plague routinely breaks and breaks their rhythms with 'core-inspired flails of agitation.

This album is figurative and literal leaps beyond Winds of Plague's previous work. Taking the time to integrate acoustic outros and soaring orchestral maneuvers amidst their dark clang and outrageous barks courtesy of Jonathan Cooke (and a handful of guests such as Suicide Silence's Mitch Lucker, Terror's Martin Steward and many others) means Winds of Plague has invested much into themselves to reach a vision they were only scratching around at in the past. The Great Stone War is a monster achievement for this group and this particular thread of metalcore-meets-symphonica. Once this band feels comfortable enough to drift out of their breakdown trappings while keeping all the other elements doing them a great service, Winds of Plague will be thus truly mighty.

Rating: ***1/2


DPTH International said...

I just picked this up over the weekend. Pretty good album. It reminded me of Aletheian and Officer Negatives "The Death Campaign" I don't mind the breakdowns, but they could have dropped a number of them throughout the album.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

My itch with breakdowns, and I've probably bored everyone to tears bellyaching about them, but if you're going to skid your songs to a halt just to throw the suckers in there and then kickstart the tune again, welp...been done too many times now, and usually on the same album such as WoP does. I think it shows a lack of creativity if you keep on throwing out breakdown after breakdown, ad infinitum... as far as I'm concerned, those continuing to use these cliched-ass breakdown schemes are just trying to get mosh pits going without barking at their crowds to stir things up...of course, if your music is THAT good and THAT intense, the pits will form without forcing them to do so...

I truly recommend people listening to the Megadeth breakdown I mentioned here when Endgame comes comes in as part of the main tempo, hits it rhythmically and energetically for a four count, then slides back into the tune with no disruption to the whole flow

Anywho....always glad to see you, bro

Anonymous said...

winds of plague caters to the crowd. if they wrote songs without breakdowns theyd be turning their backs to the kids that brought them to where they are...sure breakdowns lack creativity but theyre crowd pleasers. its more that they pigeonholed themselves into it and now leaving breakdowns behind at this point would cause a job for a cowboy type scenario. where it would be cool for a while but then just an ultimate FAIL.

Anonymous said...

i think that the breakdowns are deffinatly "crowd pleasers." not in terms of wanting to satisfy a bunch of wannabe hardcore scene kids, but in terms of live performance. and we all know that with the amount of illegal downloading, that for 99% of metal bands these days, live performance is the only way to make a living. WoP are awesome and the breakdowns are part of the package. love it or lump it

Anonymous said...

I love Winds of a Plague!

There new album: “Against the World” is coming out 4/19/2011!?!?!?

I just researched the album and it features guest appearances by Jasta of Hatebreed, Martin Stewart of Terror, Mattie Montgomery of For Today and Drew York of Stray From The Path.

Which collaboration are you most exited for?

I will defiantly be seeing Winds of Plague for my very first time on Vans Warped tour this summer in Pomona, CA 7/1/2011.

Where will you be seeing them?

Are they as good live as they sound on CD?

Give me feedback!

viagra online said...

What a boring metal band! they sing for the mases, there's no doubt about it!

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