Friday, April 5, 2013

WindRunners - Undead (2013)

It wouldn't be fair to hold the hold the sins of the labels and management against a band. When their caretakers have money on the line, they will do damn near anything to get their product into the hands of listeners around the world. Bonus content that no one wants, tour packages no one wants to see, or a laundry list of bands that this one sounds like, even when they don't. So it is often refreshing to stumbled onto something without any preconceived notion of what you've gotten yourself into. One look at the artwork for "Undead," the new studio album by Ukranian five piece WindRunners, and I found myself wondering what kind of music would be contained therein. Melodic death maybe? Old school thrash? I had to hit play, I couldn't resist. And I had the chance to hear something I hadn't expected, and certainly wasn't prepared for. Nine songs and some forty minutes later, I am prepared to preach the gospel of the new wave of power thrash.

Leading with the title track, it becomes very clear that this is no amateur effort. The production work is spot on, allowing each separate sound to come through with clarity and quality. There is an interesting dynamic at work as well, with a very modern arrangement coming together with a classic vocal line. The guitar work stands out from the rest, but is strengthened by the very, almost too subtle keyboard touches. With a faster tempo, the track flies by and, only after a breath, runs into the equally neck breaking single "Lifeless." This stands as an homage to the aforementioned classic metal style, complete with chanting gang vocals. You would be hard pressed to keep your head still or feet on the floor, most likely opting for an uptempo tapping. Thankfully, the synthesizers make their way into the foreground, giving added depth to the leads. It is in these moments, like the ones surrounding the three minute mark, where the band are at their best, leaving an intoxicating melody engrained in your head. The downside seems to come in the content itself, with could sound flat on repeated listens. But so much of that is stomped out, literally, by the track "First," which is assault and battery in musical form. I can't help but hear Megadeth here and there, as if WindRunners have channeled a younger, before Christ Mustaine for their own evil purposes. This is, in case I misled you, a great thing to behold. With vibrant musicianship and writing here, the band starts to show exactly why they should be pumping through speakers across the world.

And since variety is the spice of life, "Time" is a different animal entirely. The tempo is cut in half, relying on more dense chugging to hammer home the verse sections. It seems strange to find a song of this nature that still falls squarely into the classic power thrash realm, but it does exactly that. With the help of some memorable guitar work and the occasional high pitched wail, you are sure to be impressed and looking for more than one listen. With a blazing solo section, you might find yourself hooked. That same attitude carries over into the ballad, "Prisoned In Stone," thanks to a beautifully orchestrated clean guitar melody and accompanying bass work. But this isn't the downtrodden sort of tune the opening would lead you to believe. It erupts in a flurry of distortion and thunderous drums, only to be pulled back into a neoclassical interlude. Standing at nearly six minutes, the longest track on the album, there is not a single second left untouched, with each breath being packed full of guitar, bass, drum,s vocal and soothing keys. More importantly, though, is how the band comes roaring out of this softer break. The bombastic and altogether raging "Eternal" is just what the doctor ordered. As if their influences hadn't been worn openly enough on their sleeves to this point, a fair amount of Avantasia could be heard in the wailing vocal lines and squealing harmonics here. This isn't hero worship though; this is a modern spin on the classic formula.

So when a blazing track like "Evil Potion" comes into your frame, it all makes sense in sound and arc. With twirling guitar riffs dominating the mix, you are reminded again that this isn't a one off garage act, but musicians wit a tremendous amount of skill and vision. The fact that the songs are as catchy as they are good makes for a dangerous combination that I am more than willing to risk. And while you may be disappointed that "Cold As Ice" has nothing to do with the Vanilla Ice classic song and movie, you'll quickly shift gears into enjoying a punk inspired thrash track. Complete with galloping drums and those insanely catchy gang vocals, you find yourself awash in a sea of chugging guitars and darting bass lines that are sure to get your fist pumping. It is the keyboards that seal the deal here, often flying up the scales alongside the leads. It would seem only fitting that the closing track be one of the best, and "Goodbye My Darling" fits that bill to perfection. Equal parts slamming thrash masterpiece and winding power metal arrangement, the track is five minutes of raw power, harnessed and forced into digital form. The tone in the vocals, something I have managed to fail to mention to this point, might be one of the best selling points the band has at their disposal; just raspy enough to give rise to the grit of the album, but melodic enough to sing along to. With a solo that would make some of the all time greats blush, it becomes the best end you could find.

Bands, labels, and management will do whatever they have to do to get you to listen (read as: buy) their albums. They'll spam you, they'll flood the radio, or, worst of all, use the dread "Listen to these guys if you like.." and subsequently list ten unrelated bands from varying genres. This album by WindRunners, in all its unrestrained glory, fell into my lap without a breath from the band, the label, or the management. I had no expectations, other than ones that I form with my own eyes and ears. And in this case, that was all I needed. These nine tracks have a seemingly endless list of positives and few, if any, real negatives. It might not click right away; in fact, it may take several listens all the way through before you find yourself truly immersed in the music. But when you get to that point, it will all make sense. No amount of pushing or prodding could really capture your attention the way the album itself does. The best albums are the ones that surprise you, or even prove you wrong. And "Undead" did both.


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