It has been around three years since Norway's WINDS released its third album, "The Imaginary Direction of Time". That may seem like a long duration between albums, but if you've immersed yourself in the act's lush, classically infused compositions, then you understand that this is a band for which the term "composing" is a far more complex endeavor than your average metal/rock band. That album, just like new masterpiece "Prominence and Demise", did not merely take classical music and sprinkle it over otherwise progressive rock/metal arrangements, but made it a core element of the songs. The quartet of keyboardist Andy Winters (AGE OF SILENCE, SCULPTURED, ex-SUBTERRANEAN MASQUERADE), vocalist Lars E. Si (AGE OF SILENCE, BEFORE THE DAWN, ex-KHOLD, SENSA ANIMA, TULUS), guitarist Carl August Tidemann (TRITONUS, ex-ARCTURUS), and drummer Jan Axel von Blomberg, otherwise known as Hellhammer (AGE OF SILENCE, ARCTURUS, MAYHEM, DIMMU BORGIR, ex-KOVENANT) continue to create stunning, classically-based arrangements, this time incorporating a significantly heavier sound, accented with several well-known guest musicians. Of course, members of the Oslo Philharmonic once again participate in the crafting of this challenging work. In addition, Øystein Moe (ex-TRITONUS, ULVER) plays bass on all tracks.From the opening notes of "Universal Creation Array", the harder edge to Tidemann's riffs and the kick-drum muscle of Hellhamer is immediately apparent. Of all the WINDS' albums, "Prominence and Demise" is one that truly binds metallic toughness to classical elegance, all wrapped up in lush, progressive, and decidedly dark arrangements. And Tidemann absolutely wails on his solos, a sort of classically-based shred that is passionate and invigorating. Once again, though somehow more gripping this time, Winters' alluring piano, as well as Si's distinctive, well-rounded vocals, are heard almost dancing around the heavy-handed riffs and muscular drumming to fantastic effect, most notably on "Distorted Dimensions". One of several notable guest appearances, Dan Swanö (ex-BLOODBATH, EDGE OF SANITY, NIGHTINGALE, SECOND SKY) unexpectedly brings a gruff vocal and bellowing growl after a more traditional WINDS section, the result initially jarring, yet cleverly incorporated. Swanö also is heard on "When the Dream of Paradise Died" and "The Darkest Path". The former tune also happens to be one of several on which Si's vocals take on a kind of tense urgency, the harsher tones of the song, brief harmony vocals, and Tidemann's arresting licks (at one point almost Middle Eastern sounding) make it particularly intriguing. Lars Nedland (AGE OF SILENCE, BORKNAGAR, SOLEFALD) lends his voice to the composition as well. A match made in heaven, Agnete M. Kirkevaag (MADDER MORTEM) lends her soprano vocals to every song, except "Distorted Dimensions", "When the Dream of Paradise Died", and "Fall and Rise". Her work on "Where the Cold Winds Blow" is especially mesmerizing, one of the primary components of a track that features some wonderful piano, acoustic guitars, and string melodies. It is easy to get carried away with attempting to pin down the finer details of each of these glorious songs. What long-time fans and newcomers must realize is that "Prominence and Demise" is WINDS' most complete (and longest) album, one that must be experienced in its entirety to truly appreciate. It does take some patience, at least for those not used to such compositional complexity, but allowing oneself the pleasure of leaving this world behind and becoming swept away in this ocean of musical textures and magnificent sounds is unlike any experience you've likely ever had. WINDS is truly one of a kind.
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