Review: Winter – Into Darkness

It seems fitting that Into Darkness gets a re-release on Southern Lord – if you’re not sure why, opening instrumental “Oppression Freedom Oppression” should spell it out nicely for you. The slow-motion guitar chord changes, the tumbling snare fills, the dismal and spiralling atmospheric pads…Winter wouldn’t sound out of place on the modern day Southern Lord roster, and while there are countless bands playing heavier and slower music in 2011, few bands sound this uncompromisingly bleak.

It’s a very sparse record. Single-tracked guitar resides almost exclusively in bitter-cold powerchords, with cavernous drum reverb flooding into the vast open spaces. While the riffs themselves are rather immediate, the atmosphere of Into Darkness makes a more gradual impact – the listener is gently lured into the lonely, hollow landscape that the band occupy. It’s a raw and jammed out record, but simultaneously feels too panoramically desolate to be wholly encapsulated in any rehearsal room.

“Eternal Frost” is the album’s finest cut, and manages to introduce a greater wealth of textures without tarnishing the minimalism that makes Into Darkness so engrossing; organ and operatic vocal make a dizzying entrance during the track’s mid-section, swirling in hallucinatory (and complementary) patterns around the guitar and drums. Similarly, Winter are capable of incorporating their death metal influence without breaking the flow – the album launches suddenly into higher tempos on several occasions, like mini blasts of catharsis in among the suppressive trudge that threatens to haul the rest of Into Darkness to a standstill.

But while the record feels fresh and timeless for the most part, it’s peppered with the occasional clichéd lyric and cheesy wail of guitar lead, sending jolting reminders of the fact that the album is 21 years old. It’s still a solid release though, and it’s difficult to imagine the likes of Eagle Twin and Goatsnake sounding as they do without bands like Winter paving the dreary, desolate path back in 1990. Well worth a re-release.