Review: Northwind Wolves – Mountains and Darkness

Northwind Wolves has been around since 2012. This Los Angeles, California based band plays symphonic black metal, according to themselves the vile variety, which up until recently was only to be heard on their 2017 maiden release called Dark… Cold… Grim… I have never had the pleasure to listen to it, so not much to go on comparison-wise, which is fine in my book. I prefer an unprejudiced, open-minded approach anyway, so that is exactly my approach where it comes to their recently released second full-length, which they named Mountains and Darkness. As for the band itself, there are four wolves in the pack. They are known as Lennis on bass and as vocalist, William on drums and as backing vocalist, Astaroth as guitarist and backing vocalist and last but not least Noor as guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist. Not much more to tell, so exit introduction, enter tunes.

Mountains and Darkness brings us ten songs that span a little under forty minutes and opens with the appropriately titled Before Dawns First Light. A pretty strong opener I must say. The haunting keys in its intro strongly contribute to the overall feel of the song, which is best described as dauntingly cold and intimidating with a relative innocent start. It’s not black metal at its purest, there are certainly influences from various genres, in particular death metal, making this song a sweet hybrid in which the power of death metal augments the atmosphere and gripping rhythm of black metal. The same description more or less applies to Lord of Winter and Death, but when Death of the Lost World sets in after a somewhat peculiar intro it becomes clear the black metal slowly but surely gets the upper hand over all other genres combined. The atmospheric temperature drops a few degrees, the drums’ speed gets kicked up a notch or two followed, of course, by guitar and bass and the vocals turn more and more foul. Nevertheless the melodic side of Northwind Wolves remains more or less intact, albeit less influential, keeping the song manageable and, much more important, coherent. The pinnacle of this coldness lies within the fourth song, Unholy Forest of Wolves – Part I, a massive, heavy behemoth of a song that will echo in your head for quite a while.

And then, when Pale Winter-Storm Lightning sets in, the foulness in the black metal storm seems to subside a bit, allowing more room for melodicism, within certain borders of course, and that proves to be a trend that the guys follow throughout the rest of the album. Even though Ludmilla the Witch still largely taps from the vein of foulness, its overall feel is less oppressing and evil, which can definitely also be said from Mountains and Darkness. But after that comes a pair of songs, A Knight Called Death and Unholy Forest of Wolves – Part II,  that are slower, more organized composition-wise giving them a more open, approachable character, despite a few outbursts. This more melodic type of playing seems to suit the guys equally well as the more evil-tinted metal they play in the first half, giving them a torrent of options to develop and mature, even though the latter doesn’t seem to be very urgent as they sound rather mature as it is already. Album closer Curse of Ages seems to be a summary of everything the guys from Northwind Wolves are capable of both music- and composition-wise, which is quite the package in my opinion, mixed into a single song.

Like I said at the start of this review, I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing their first release yet, but after this I most certainly will change that. On Mountains and Darkness they show a musical variety of what they are capable of while maintaining the quality regardless the chosen style. There’s room for everything here: howling guitars, haunting keys, humming bass lines and bone-crunching drums, all accompanied by foul, rasping vocal lines merged into high-quality compositions, greatly executed and produced. Sweet release, be sure to check it out.

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