Release: 15 November 2019
Label: Ex Cathedra Records
Winter is coming, and by the looks of things it will be of the ancient variety. Leah’s Ancient Winter issupposedly a departure from her usual celtic-infused Symphonic Metal into the realm of World Music. Firstly, it is important to establish that Ancient Winter is not merely World Music. Music of that genre has an irritating tendency to take any instrument that isn’t a woodwind or bodhran and turn them so far down that they are barely present. Even then the folk instruments tend to “whisper” as one of my previous music teachers would describe it. Ancient Winter isn’t the tepid sort of World Music played in indie New Age stores. While the music is serene and enchanting, there are enough rock influences on the album that the songs still have some kick to them. But more than that, the keening pipes, the dreary strings, and the subtle chorals melt together into an ethereal opus with moments of grandiose triumph and indescribable ambience throughout the album.
“The Whole World Summons” opens the album, capturing the scenic beauty of winter, lyrically and musically. Within the first few minutes the track goes from sounding like a medieval mass at witching hour to a soaring ballad (of course substituting folk instrumentation for contemporary instrumentation). There seemed to be subtle Christian symbolism in the lyrics, which comes to the forefront with “Light of the World” which is essentially a song about the first noël. There one is treated to a more Middle-Eastern take on the eerie atmosphere across the album. “Upon Your Destiny” and “The Messenger” both feature refreshing variations of the folk tunes used. Both have a completely unique approach to the instrumentation and song structure. One debatable flaw of many bands across genres is how their songs conform to a certain formula while sounding different. Here the striking difference in mood from the sombre leanings of “Upon Your Destiny” to the more floating sound in “The Messenger”, illustrates the notion of songs tied only through a common premise and atmosphere while having a different creative expression. “Redemption” would also arguably prove the previous point. However for those who listened to the single the idea should be self-evident by the end of the first track. Perhaps repeating the intro at the end of the song on tracks like “Upon Your Destiny” feels unnecessary.
Keeping with the brevity of the previous sections there are two other points that need to be brought up that makes Ancient Winter such an excellent album. Firstly, the guest musicians are at the peak of their performance. Anna Murphy’s elaborate hurdy-gurdy leads for example, come of as being in their element. While Cellar Darling’s more modern take on Hurdy Gurdy melodies are innovative, here the music sounds more natural and vibrant (perhaps largely helped by the overall orchestration of the album). The Cello passages are striking and the pipes drive the sounds even more than with The Quest. Secondly, the inclusion of the three cover songs were well selected. While this reviewer is still waiting on Leah doing a Jethro Tull cover song, all three of the traditional Christmas songs have the same Medieval tinged sound and haunting qualities that are present across the album. With the exception of “Noel Novelet”, all the songs are sung in Latin and are derived from actual medieval manuscripts.
It truly is rare to find softer sounding ethereal music that is still Metal at it’s roots. Leah’s Ancient Winter fills that niche and is filled to the brim with the sort of music one might listen to at night, when the lights are dim and the mind is at ease. Ancient Winter is coming, summoned by the whole world and is clearly spun from threads of the world’s most magical sounding music.
- The Whole World Summons
- Light of the World
- Upon Your Destiny
- The Messenger
- Puer Natus
- Noel Nouvelet