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Gates of Winter - "Lux Aeterna" (CD)

Gates of Winter - "Lux Aeterna" CD cover image

"Lux Aeterna" track listing:

1. Life Force Rapture
2. Burning Kingdom I – A Dark Affliction
3. Burning Kingdom II – Heavenly Insurgence
4. Burning Kingdom III – Lux Aeterna
5. The Wildwood Pariah
6. Winter Flight
7. Gates of Winter
8. From the Flesh
9. Omega

Reviewed by on September 25, 2008

"These guys can really rip, which begs the question, 'Why are they holding back?'"

Hailing from Sault Ste. Marie in Northern Ontario, Gates of Winter probably know all to well the season that shares their moniker. Those who have suffered through a Canadian winter know it can be harsh, destructive and really, really abrasive. The same cannot be said for the symphonic metal outfit of their self-released full-length debut, “Lux Aeterna.” Now, to call it placid, safe and reserved might be overshooting it a bit, but it wouldn’t be that far off. For instance, opening track “Life Force Rapture” does little to inspire the listener, whose index finger may or may not be hovering mere inches from that stop button. Don’t get me wrong, “Life Force Rapture” does have some way cool elements to it, but many of the sections weigh in too long, making it too easy to lose interest. There are some tight changes, but because the patterns are so drawn out and repetitive, they lose any real punch. There is also a fun solo in this opening track, showing these guys can really rip, which begs the question, “Why are they holding back?”

That said, I really liked the ending of this tune – and I’m not just saying this because I spent the first six and a half minutes trying not to fall asleep. The conclusion of “Life Force Rapture” was a decent example of the progressive flavour Gates of Winter are capable of. And while it’s not the best hint of what’s to follow, the rest of the album, in retrospect, is worth giving an honest listen.

“The Burning Kingdom” trilogy was more luring an introduction to the prog-infused symphonic metal Gates of Winter has to offer, but again, you’re left with a feeling of neglect, like there’s something the band is hiding, because you know that they know there’s more here than simple rhythms. It leaves you feeling slightly unfulfilled, kind of like when they stopped giving you that little bag of peanuts on the airplane. I mean, I’m not allergic, so why am I punished?

But I digress.

“Lux Aeterna” was recorded over a period of two years and completely self-financed, so I think Gates of Winter have already had a taste of the long and lonely road of independent music. Overall, the recording quality has made mountains from a very small stack of cash, especially compared to most of the other self-released gems that most audiences will never get the chance to experience.

“Lux Aeterna” is a diamond in the rough. First and foremost, it’s a refreshing to hear a metal singer, and not just a screamer for a change, although vocalist/guitarist Lee Maines has no problem tossing in the occasional doom-influenced growling down when the moment calls. His clean vocal diversity shows promise when he doesn’t sound like he’s forcing it, or like he’s channeling Korn frontman Jonathan Davis. Come to think of, there are times he also sounds eerily reminiscent of Antimatter’s Mick Moss. But, for the most part, Maines sounds like he’s holding back. Only Maines himself knows if pulling double duty as vocalist and guitarist is weighing him down, but he would do well to pick one and focus on it. Perhaps the addition of another guitarist would allow guitarist Bryan Belleau a challenge, maybe some good tension, and Maines could develop his own voice.

The keyboard melodies compliment Maines’ vocal style when they can be heard. Whether due to the final mix or to the fault of the three different sound platforms I played this through, the basic rhythm guitars had a tendency to drown the synth so much that it could only be heard between timing and key changes, and during most of these intervals, keyboardist Brian Holmes simply held down singular notes and chords, most notably near the end of “Burning Kingdom – A Dark Affliction.” It felt like a drill to my temporal bone.

On the other end of the spectrum, the keyboards also had their overpowering moments, like in “A Winter Flight.” Holmes has some good technique, and it would be great to actually hear him as he intended when he wrote his lines.

The instrumental “Gates of Winter” and the largely vocal-free “Omega” display the musicianship of the band a little better, but it still sounds like they’re holding back, like they’re trying to appease to certain expectations. Bassist Steve Furgiuele is nearly non-existent in throughout the album, and the guitars are careful not to tread in each other’s water. The overall musicianship here is solid, but not a whole lot stands out. There’s nothing overly original here, but hey – it doesn’t suck and once Gates of Winter stops playing for a specific audience and concentrates on finding their own unique sound, their follow-up just might turn the right heads.

Highs: Love the female guest vocals in “The Burning Kingdom” trilogy. It's a nice contrast to the male vocals, without being gimmicky.

Lows: “The Wildwood Pariah” stars with this airy acoustic Led Zeppelin-esque attitude. I dug it at first, but the guitar patterns were so repetitive that half way through, I was clicking to the next track.

Bottom line: A solid effort, but one that relies too heavily on the preconceived expectations of their target audience.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)