Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Midvinter - At the Sight of the Apocalypse Dragon (1997)

Russian imprint Frostscald has a very interesting policy of mixing in some tasteful re-issues alongside their newer, original acts, and the chance to snag up Sweden's Midvinter and issue their underrated classic At the Sight of the Apocalypse Dragon must have been a boon to the budding label. A lot of readers might have an established familiarity with this album, since Metal Blade did a pretty decent licensing of it following its original release through the Black Diamond brand of the tragic Invasion records, responsible for many decent records, some excellent in the late 90s. But ultimately, the band would see numerous releases canceled or kenneled due to label problems, and even the Metal Blade version would not work the wonders the band might have been due.

So the cliche 'better late than never' must certainly apply to this re-issue, which sadly features less appealing packaging, including a similar cover with the band's draconic sigil over the foreground of a nuclear explosion on a landmass, rather than the preferred starscape of the early version. On the other hand, the audio contents and lyrics are all in place, and it's good to get your hands on this if you favor Swedish black metal like Dissection, Marduk and early Mörk Gryning, and have yet to meet the opportunity. Midvinter excel at creating highly atmospheric, cosmic occult riffing with a dense conjecture of melody and sneering vitriol, sauteed in strapping, straight blast beats and sad, epic guitars. For a three piece, this was fairly impressive in its day, with Zathanel's drumming (currently of Blot Mine), Kheeroth's vocals, and Damien Midvinter performing the rest (he's been largely silent outside of Midvinter, with the exception of his work with Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection on the one electronic De Infernali album).

The band were surprisingly good at maintaining a listener's attention despite the rather drawn out compositions. The record is over 60 minutes, with all songs exceeding 8 minutes except the shorter finale "De Vises Hymn", but there is enough juggling of pace and rhythm that one will not quickly become tired of the band's desperate charging and atmospheric departure from the terrestrial sphere, at least not on a song per song basis. The band is best exemplified in a track like "All Things to End Are Made", which opens at a barbaric strut, with cleaner vocal tones, and then excels into a charging break which should appeal to fans of The Somberlain or Far Away from the Sun, or the melodic death metal wave of the mid to late 90s that included At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, Eucharist and so forth. They can pick up the level of aggression somewhat, as in the screaming furor of "Moonbound" and "Hope Rides on Devil Wings", but the larger portion of material here moves at a glorious bound, focusing in on its most catchy rhythms in later songs like "Dreamslave" and "Ett Liv Förnekat".

There aren't a large number of flaws within the material, but perhaps the band could have been accused of offering too much of the same thing, a complaint leveled at many of their peers at the time (Marduk or Dark Funeral for instance). At the same time, you could actually listen to 2-3 of the songs here and then call it quits until the day arrived upon which you wanted this same sound again. A chunk of the record is just as compelling as its entirety, and I'm not sure a 60+ minute commitment is required. So, to an extent, some monotony does rear its sadistic head, but if you're enamored of melodic Swedish black metal, this would surely be an album you should track down. The lyrics are pretty good, and the level balance of the thicker rhythmic guitar with the endlessly streaming melodies makes for a transfixing experience.

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(marry my body to the dust)


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