1999, Dragon Flight
The main problem with exploring or reviewing (and thus soliciting) the more 'obscure' bands in the underground scene is that in the almighty search for diamonds in the mud, you have to make your way through completely debilitating music - recordings that either shouldn't have ever been produced, music that never should have been put on tape, or releases that came out much too early in a band's career. Sometimes after hacking your way through the underbrush of bands striving for a larger audience or a greater share of the glory reserved for underground metal (in other words, practically no glory at all) you come to a set of musicians that are, for whatever reason, toiling in black obscurity when they should be having their collective name shouted from the rooftops.
Long Winters' Stare are not such a band. They are, however, an interesting pair of musicians because at least they try, over the course of this album's eight tracks, to inject something original or new into the underground. Combining a large number of influences and sounds (i.e. attempts at music) into a package that really can't be labeled (that's a good thing) because of a lack of cohesiveness or a single unifying vision, this music stumbles from one arena of obscurity to another over the course of its over-long 52 minutes. This isn't a band that's easy to explain, describe, or promote (I'm sure their label must be having problems with that angle) and as such I hail them because they seem to have escaped all the loose definitions of the dominant genres within metal or dark music. However, I'm not sure this is a result of their choice or a complete failure on their part to achieve what they set out to produce. This album doesn't make it clear at all what their direction was when they set foot into the studio.
Combining low lukewarm distorted guitars, clean slow-picked acoustics, multiple voices (male and female), a very boxy and amateurish rhythm section (the drums are recorded terribly), piano (or at least the piano sound from a synth), a contrabass, and grand 'symphonic' sections of synth manipulation, this band tries their best to bring all of these discordant or contrasting elements together into one unified dark sound, and then make that sound move forwards. They rarely succeed. In fact, this album reminds me of nothing so much as the more embarrassing works put out by the Greek scene, bands such as Varathron, Necromantia, etc. who when they are inspired and at the top of their game can be counted on to produce music that is at the most diverting in its strangeness. This band rarely reaches the mid-point of that kind of potential.
Having said that, there are a few good moments on this album. The third song, for example, 'War Epic', is an effective attempt at combining some of the more atmospheric elements of dark/black metal bands with a slow doom funeral crawl ala Skepticism. The vocals during this song reach a truly Jurassic level of gravel-throated power, and the main guitar/synth melodies are moving, I believe, in part because they are so simple. The key to writing music that is entrancing or mesmerizing, when very simple, it making sure that the few melodies in the song are actually evocative enough to bear constant repetition. On this song they succeed with this formula.
I hope that in the future this band will concentrate more on refining their own personal style, and adding a new sense of dynamics or compositional contrast in their songs. This band has the potential to do something a lot better as they mature...I think they just put out this CD a little too early.