Friday, January 4, 2013

Appalachian Winter - Ghosts Of The Mountains (2013)

No promotion. No shameless pandering. No catering to the masses. In the world of Appalachian Winter, the lack of music business nonsense has never been a problem, but rather a strength. When that moniker graces the cover of a new album, you can be sure that you are getting 100% of the artistic integrity that sole proprietor Dan Klyne has to offer. Whether it is his propensity for wild instrumentation, his ability to balance the rough edges of black metal with melodic folk influences, or the honest lyrical content on display, Klyne is living proof that a one man band can flourish under the right circumstances. And on his new home grown album, "Ghosts Of The Mountains," Klyne and Appalachian Winter take you deeper into the Pennsylvania wilderness.

A loud thunder of drums and soaring chants open the album and "Rebellion Within the Young Nation," a thunderous battle cry that awakens every one of your senses. Klyne wastes no time injecting his unique use of traditional instruments into the mix, a subtle yet successful bending of the tenets of metal. His vocals enter with a rousing scream, layered and earth shaking in their power. The background use of keys and horns creates a solid cloud of atmospheric elements, one that heightens the entire track to near flawless levels. In a surprising change of pace, "Patriarchs" rises from a clean guitar to a massive epic wave of sound. Combining his clean vocals with coarse screams, Klyne runs the full gauntlet of vocal styles. The air of triumphant and emotional that surrounds the entire track is one that will ignite a fire in you; it may cause your fist to go up or your head to start moving. And with lyrics as passionate as you will find in modern metal, the holy trinity is complete. It may not be until "Ancestors Of The Lake" that you feel a growing flame inside you, incited by spoken words over an extremely well composed piece of piano and synthesizer. But when the first kick drum hits your ears, that flame will burn more intensely, fueled by a symphonic gasoline.

With use of the full orchestra, as on "The Town Old Man Schell Built," Klyne oftens makes you forget that this is a one man show. The depth of sound he achieves here is unreal at times, balancing the house of cards with thought and precision.It isn't just the command of the heavy elements that makes this all work, but the mastery of the melodic. The way the keyboards find themselves tangled with strings and horns makes it hard to think of them as separate entities, but parts of the same whole. And even as "Keystone" makes the shift from light instrumental to blaring symphony of horns and drums, it never loses the unique flavor that Klyne's own rural Pennsylvania lifestyle brings to the party. Swaying masses of strings and the pounding of drums, merged together to form a metal lullaby. It would be nearly impossible to ignore the cinematic quality of a track like "The Great Battle," something engrained into every sweeping guitar riff. Klyne is at his lyrical best here, telling a story with not only his words, but the manner in which they are delivered. There is a connection made between the man and his listeners, one that transcends the music itself. His deafening screams convey all of the emotion that goes into each verse, followed by the rattling of snares.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Klyne soars to the top of his range and lets out a high octave cry. And thus begins the march of "Pennsylvanian Fire." One part opera singer, one part diabolical screamer, you get a stark contrast of styles from one moment to the next. Musically, he hits every mark. Each layer comes through with clarity and power, yet they fit together like pieces of a puzzle. They are in sync with one another, each occupying a slice of the same melody. Unleashing the beast in earnest, the opening gallop of drums on "The Great Flood of 1889" is an exercise in versatility. Combining elements of black, folk, death, gothic, symphonic and power metal into one pounding affair. In a turn that is an Appalachian Winter staple, the use of chants invigorates the song and every ear it touches on its way, bringing men to their feet. But as the album winds to a close, there is a moment of quiet reflection, in the form of "The Cemetery where Slaves Lie Buried." The intro portion puts you at ease, while the first explosion lies dormant. But what the blast comes, Klyne unleashes some of his best guitar work to date. Every chugging moment is crisp and clear, laying down a foundation for clean vocals to rise upon. This is the signature type track so many bands work their whole careers to write. It displays what Klyne, and his Appalachian Winter moniker, are all about.

A good album makes you forget the world around you for a predetermined amount of time. A great album takes you away from it all, and transports you to some place else entirely. For some 50 minutes of "Ghosts Of The Mountains," I ceased to be in my office, at a desk. For that period of time, it felt as though I was seeing the world through a different set of eyes. Whether it be in the Pennsylvania countryside or not, it is hard to say. But it would be nearly impossible to say there has ever been  a stronger sense of imagery and depth to an album that I can remember. With each release Dan Klyne betters himself, as a musician and a composer. And despite the beauty of his last release, the nine tracks on this disc are miles ahead of anything, and anyone, in the genre. It's new without losing the old; thought provoking without being pretentious; heavy without being muddled. Simply put, this is an album you have to hear.


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