Where the Snows Are Never Gone is not necessarily an album, but a 1997 demo that has seen several reincarnations in CD form, the latest coming through Negative Existence this year. However, since the Russian gem consists of nearly 40 minutes of material and is lauded as one of the best of Old Wainds releases, it's easy to think of it as such. If you've experienced primitive Russian black metal in the past, whether Branikald or Forest or a number of other bands, then you know to expect some of the coldest shit imaginable in audio form, and this is not an exception, but Old Wainds approach the genre with somewhat less savagery, and more of a fibrous, thick tone to the distortion which writhes against the mix of rasped and occasional use of soaring, chanted vocals.
I really enjoy the intro to this album, the first minute of "Unholy Nordland Fire" with its roaring swell of ambiance and synthesized, epic horns, but once the cannon-like burst samples and the blast beats begin here, the only atmosphere you're getting is that which is created through the instruments and vocals. A few of the cuts like "Gods Gazing from Beyond" and "Where the Snows Are Never Gone" itself are pure blasts that disintegrate into mid-paced, rocking passages, all dosed in the extreme, arctic radiation of the raw guitar tones which is entirely unforgiving. Just about every track here does involve some fraction of the blasting, with the exception of the closer, "Cold Mourning of the Pale Moon", which has the biggest concentration of the clean, chant-like vocals and a slower, chilling pace to it highlighted by the fuzzy, discordant gloom of the guitars. However, most of them are gripping, if not wholly unique sounding or possessive of any surprise within.
I haven't enjoyed all of Old Wainds' records equally, but I certainly appreciated Scalding Coldness from 2005, and the material here, as crude as it seems, is likewise engrossing. There is no question that this style is reserved for those willing to accept the lack of production and the hostile, tonal qualities created through the milieu. Comparisons can be made to the older works of Burzum, Graveland, Mayhem, and Bathory, and despite its age, the recording still emits a breath of damp winter aggression, like being pummeled into the thawing earth of grass dried and cold, wet surface soil. Thick as thieves, dark as pitch and complete outside the sphere of warmth and happiness, the only intricacy here is the feel of each nerve stilled by the spiteful shadows of the music.
Verdict: Win [7/10]