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.
Friday, September 04, 2009
Winds of Plague - The Great Stone War