Friday, May 11, 2012

Winter’s Verge – Beyond Vengeance (2012)

Yes, some of the greatest metal acts in the world come from countries like Spain, Italy, Finland and Germany, to name a few. But the tiny island nation of Cyprus, off the southern coast of Turkey? Add them to the list. Winter's Verge has been on the cusp of stardom for years, with a brand of progressive power metal that is accessible, as well as intriguing. Fronted by the vocal talents of George Charalambous, it would be easy to find yourself lost in the grit and grooves that "Beyond Vengeance" has to offer. But don't be fooled; there is a lot more to this album to meets the eye.

Sweet symphonics open "Cunning Lullabies" before a whispering voice joins the fray. An organ plays in the background as guitars explode forward. Charalambous' voice commands your attention in traditional heavy metal style, showing range and power with every vocal passage. The multiple layers meld together into one, with squealing guitars joining with raucous drums and a smooth bass line. Things quiet down for what seems like a moment, and then come to a head with an explosion of distortion and crashing cymbals. Before you have time to breathe, a fast and furious guitar solo bursts through the wall of sound, followed quickly by a keyboard solo that matches it, note for note. Light piano keys fade out, and give way to "Paper Is Blank," which boasts some persistent percussion. Charalambous exhibits a strong grasp of the storytelling element that the music demands, without sacrificing strength for story. Sitting in between the grinding guitar work and the pulsing drums is an emotional investment, a dedication to the craft. And while another ripping solo may steal the show, the lyrics won't be lost.

There is a classic sound to "Unto The Darkness," one that brings to mind Judas Priest in the verse, and iron Maiden in the chorus. The tempo is fast, but always changing. An addition of a more harsh vocal to Charalambous' normal style does wonders, especially when it collides with an operatic high note. The haunting synths are the glue, as always, tying instrument to instrument, and stanza to stanza. Fear not, guitar lovers, squealing harmonics await you on "Not Without A Fight." Simplicity can be an asset, as is demonstrated here with a more basic guitar gallop taking you through the verse sections. The kicker is in the way the keys and chords mix together, forming a pretty formidable unit. This is not to say the guitars are completely hindered. There is still a whirlwind of a solo to contend with, one that cuts and slices you in ways you should prepare for. To the more melodic side, "Bleeding Heart" sees a mix of darting keyboard notes and uptempo bass lines taking center stage. Charalambous shows his range and melodic mettle, soaring through verse and chorus with ease and grace. There are portions of the track where the drums feel like a lead, trading off with the guitars in a quid pro quo relationship. Not to be denied, the keys take charge and lay down a futuristic hum. A quick vocal harmony? Fitting.

There is certainly a more dire feel to "Dying," whether by intention or not. The lyrical content is worth mentioning, especially here. Charalambous' words are intelligent as well as charismatically delivered, something that should be celebrated. Doing double duty as front man and backing vocalist, he gives quite the performance. But through the twirling guitars and endless sea of percussion, the band tells their own story, one that is as poignant as the main tale. What would power metal be without that one ballad to sooth the savage beast? Predictably, based on the title along, "One Last Night" is that track. The tempo slows, and the band restrains themselves for a five minute piece. Charalambous wears his heart on his sleeve, pining for lost love. But in the emotional rain storm, a lightning solo flashes into frame, one that gives life to the track. Guitarist Harry Parri gives you that extra element to make things a success time and again, and "Threads Of My Life" is no exception. A gang vocal chorus is a nice touch, but the true strength here lies in the occasional burst of riffs and distortion. Paired with light keyboard work, you have a combination that needs to be perfect to drive home the nail.

Sometimes the shortest track has the most to offer. "Angels Of Babylon" may be the perfect example, giving you a three minute burst of high speed riffs and drums. The vocals are clean and bordering on epic, with Charalambousshowing tremendous care with each note, fitting every syllable into tight spaces, without crowding the message. Parri again shreds away over top of a blasting drum fill. From the shortest to the longest, "Semeni" is a far cry from the quick burst of energy. Building from a solemn acoustic guitar and synth pairing, it is part ballad and part triumphant march. The sea of snares and battery of toms are assertive, but not overwhelming. It allows for the subtleties of the vocals but in solo and gang form, to shine through. There is something to be said about a track that causes you to sway back and forth in your chair, something this track does numerous times. Conversely, "A Dream For A Dream" seems out of place. This five minute closer seems like it could have been the opening track, or even an interlude. Stripped down and moody, it doesn't seem to fit the role as the finale. To be fair, the track itself is strong, but the placement isn't.

Geography most certainly plays a role in the development of music, and musicians. But more than that, it can also help or hinder your exposure to the world. Hailing from Cyprus, Winter's Verge don't necessarily have the benefit of a large scene to be a part of. In fact, they are their own scene. But they are overcoming the geography as a hinderance, while embracing it musically. Yes, this is a power metal album. But it isn't just your run of the mill effort. Charalambous and company go beyond the restrictions and traditions and give us something that can be enjoyed over and over. "Beyond Vengeance" is a crowning achievement in a budding success story.


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