The best by a British symphonic metal band
Review by Paul Quinton
Release date: 6 October 2014
The first time I saw Winter In Eden was in the basement of a club in Leicester. It was part of a multi-band event, but the band were obliged to play on a stage that was on a direct route to the Gents toilet, which meant random members of the audience would occasionally wander across the stage with varying degrees of urgency, and furthermore, the organisers had decided to ‘borrow’ half of the PA to use on one of the other stages, which didn’t do a great deal for the sound. Nevertheless it was obvious, even under those difficult circumstances, that here was a band with a lot going for them.
Their songs, all original, were good, they could play and they had a talented and engaging lead singer in Vicky Johnson. I thought at the time that at last the UK might have a band to challenge the near monopoly bands from the Netherlands have in this particular genre and a decent first album only added to that promise. Their second album, Act of Betrayal, didn’t quite keep up their momentum though, but some tasty support slots on the Continent drew the attention of none other than Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie, with the result that he produced this album at his studios in Holland, undoubtedly a bit of a coup for the band.
So there’s a bit of anticipation surrounding Court Of Conscience, but it must be said that it’s an album that needs a few listens before it can be fully appreciated. At first it could sound like just another female fronted, symphonic metal album, more of a Delain than an Epica, say, but fitting nicely into the template. The first few songs are typical female-fronted metal songs, although very recognisably Winter In Eden, while the sound is much fuller and the riffs seem to be a little more ambitious than on their earlier albums, particularly on the album opener ‘Knife Edge’. ‘With Intent’, the second track, shows a welcome willingness to play with the formula, with a nice, almost decadent, feel. This is also the first song on which the band have included that staple of the genre, death grunt vocals, although they’re comparatively understated, almost an echo in the background.
The six minutes of ‘Critical Mass Part One’ also shows this welcome urge to experiment, but is one of the tracks that doesn’t quite come off. It has a spoken word part by Threshold singer Damian Wilson and a contrastingly gentle mid-section, but some of the instrumental passages really need a bit more of a kick, and are somewhat generic. However the following track, ‘Toxicate’ is a belter. A darker vocal, a far more metal riff than usual, livened up with interesting rhythmic touches, and a real sense of drama, yet still recognisably Winter In Eden. If it isn’t already, this should go straight into the live set.
There’s more experimentation on ‘It’s Not Enough,’ which opens with a burst of electronica leading to one of the best performances I’ve heard from Vicky Johnson. She puts a real layer of weariness and resignation into her vocal, before the rest of the track puts the pedal to the floor and veers off into power metal territory, while another highlight is ‘the Script’, which is the most genuinely Gothic track on the album, with a string part that that has a real period feel and another great vocal from Vicky, full of a determined but restrained anger. Some of the lyrics don’t quite work, but again, a really interesting and ambitious track, typical of this album.
As female-fronted, symphonic metal albums go, this is very good. Maybe not a breakthrough album, as Nightwish had with ‘Once’ and Within Temptation with ‘The Silent Force’, let alone a game changer like ‘The Unforgiving’. But if you discount bands of that stature, who are the genuine superstars in this field, not to mention Delain, who, take it from me, will surely be the next band to break through, then this is as good a record as you will hear in the genre this year, and the best by a British symphonic metal band I’ve heard for at least five years.
8 out of 10
- Knife Edge
- With Intent
- Critical Mass Part 1 – Burdened
- Order Of Your Faith
- It’s Not Enough
- Before it Began
- The Script
- Constant Tomorrows
- Behind Closed Doors