Thursday, June 27, 2013

Moss Of Moonlight - Winterwheel (EP) (2013)

It would seem that there are two different types of bands out there; those who claim to do something different, and those that actually do it. We've all heard bands say they will reinvent their respective genre on a new album, blurring the lines between something, and something else. but rarely does their music alone achieve that. The Pacific Northwest, for all of it's Bigfoot hunters and rain soaked seasons, is still a largely untapped environment for metal of any real substance. So when reading the bio of Washington state's Moss Of Moonlight, it almost seems like a foreign land, some three thousand miles away. And with the current Cascadian independence movement, which would form an independent nation consisting of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, it could become foreign soil. But with their music, this two piece deliver to you, in song, their home land. And through a fusion of blackened folk, Anglo Saxon chants, and nearly cinematic melodies, "Winterwheel" is a vision put to music.

There is no time to be wasted here, as "Gaet" launches into an intoxicating gallop very quickly, and very forcefully. There is a sweeping melodic quality here, one that catches you up almost immediately. It's the way they fuse the tenets of black and folk metal that makes it so easy to  give in to, but it is the variety and versatility that keeps you there. When frontman Cavan Wagner's deep growls give way to the soothing, hypnotic vocals of drummer Jenn Grunigen, there is a stark contrast between pain and beauty. The two styles play off of one another, right down to the chanting bridge sections. But by no means does the vocal prowess give you license to sleep on the instrumental, which is as crisp and rich as the sizzle of the cymbals that cascades throughout. Their balance, the level ground that is formed between guitars and drums, keeps you focused on all of the small details coming in and out of the mix. It's the smallest touches that make the album not only unique, but also memorable. The light vocal harmony that begins "Eole" will not soon be forgotten, nor will the chills that resulted. The duo's ability to allow the track to grow is most impressive, never forcing a square peg into the proverbial round hole. Instead, they evolve and change like a painting being done before your eyes. From syncopated and precisely timed drum beats, to rising and falling guitar riffs, you have a well rounded bevy of carefully placed and supported pieces at play.

Even more interesting is how each song stands apart from the rest, as a ringing jaw harp permeates the opening to "Catte." The music fades, and Grunigen croons in her most haunting voice, a combination of airy honesty and eerie reality. Offset by the entry of some truly scary growls, the swaying melodies are unrivaled in modern metal, let alone a blackened sub-sect that too often relies on oversold depth to pad out a less than clean mix. The depth of sound created here is very real, and altogether tangible. Not only do you find yourself in the center of this howling wind, but you get caught up in the myriad of sounds and structures at play. It is a reminder that there is no room form one dimensional efforts in the new modern age of metal. And as the low chants open "Hraefne," the shortest track on the album, you are once again transported to a different place entirely. Grunigen sings sweetly as Wagner backs her, all over the faintest of tapping drums. Even without the full arsenal of guitars, bass, drums and raging distortion, the duo manage to captivate you in every conceivable way. The six minute run time, which is dwarfed by the other three tracks you've survived thus far, is concise and utilized perfectly, bending and swaying in the winds and chanting vocals. Beyond that, though, is an exceptional handle on lyrical content, one that simply must be appreciated.

I struggle to find another effort that holds as much potential as "Winterwheel," and delivers on every hope. Grunigen and Wagner have made a promise with both their previous works and their description of this one; the fact that they not only met, but exceeded those expectations is a victory of epic proportions. Moss Of Moonlight isn't yet a household name, at least not in any of the homes I've visited recently, but beautifully built and maintained albums like this one seem to indicate that they deserve to be. Many will see their description as blackened folk and assume they've heard it all before. But after forty some odd minutes of nature inspired works, it would be nearly impossible to say any of it sounded familiar. The combination of light and dark, white and black, high and low is unique, and truly refreshing. It does something, artistically, that allows you to see the music without any sort of hallucinogenic drugs. When it's all said and done, and the last notes have faded, you will feel as though you've seen their vision of Cascadia, even from the comfort of your own home.


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