Winter Martyrium. A wintery themed special.

12 min read

The Winter has always been a great inspiration in the music – bands’ names, bands’ albums, bands’ songs, bands’ artworks…so much available there connected with the season.The Winter with its proud lonely posture, freezing look and cold heart… That’s why we decided to play with the winter theme this Sunday, and give you few recommendations of music, fitting well to the winter season – picks based on music, winter wording, lyrics, artwork etc. 

And indeed the winter solitude, the cold, the silence, the weeping trees, the eternal snowy mountains drown in grief, the winter sunsets at dusk, the frozen stars and the glorious winter night sky – all of them are visions from the infinite and they can’t just be described, but moreover felt…

Enjoy the great music, and most of all enjoy this winter Sunday!

HEAVY LOAD – Death Or Glory
1982, Thunderload Records

When the topic of a winter special was brought up, my old school mind went immediately to a place where swords, axes, snowy landscapes and polar bears resided…Heavy Load’s “Death Or Glory”! With Odin by their side and the incredible sounds of singing steel, the bludgeoning drums, over the top soaring vocal melodies and the heavily influenced European styled riffage, Heavy Load quickly became one of my favorite bands upon first hearing it.  read more

It wasn’t their first release, but was the first time I had heard the band since a brief encounter with a neighbor whose older brother had a cassette tape recording of their debut “Full Speed At High Level.” It was furiously delivered, but I wasn’t drawn in. Of course I was only a twelve year old at the time, so what did I know? Soon thereafter my friends and I traveled to one of our favorite spots, Record Haven in Hollywood, FL where “Lou” – our ambassador of new metal and vinyl releases – suggested we immediately grab a few of his recent imports that included “Death Or Glory.” Back in the day as many of us know you were drawn in most of the time by the album artwork more than anything else, especially if you had no clue who the band was. But Lou would play a bit of the music for you to see if you wanted to purchase, and this day Heavy Load was coming home, and an album that for me has remained in heavy rotation for the last 36 years. In fact the band has reformed since 2017 with the brothers Wahlquist along with original bassist Torbjörn Ragnesjö and guitarist Eddy Malm. One significant feature of the band was they all sang lead vocals on various tracks besides Torbjörn and had a unique layered and melodic vocal approach to the songs. They were excellent musicians by this time and when paired with that vocal styling, Viking imagery and killer artwork, it all just worked besides the quite pedestrian production values.

“Death Or Glory” yes at times sounds dated, hell I think they meant it to sound that way even back in 1982. But it’s really the outstanding guitar work that shines through on most of the tracks like the impressive Still There is Time, Bleeding Streets and Might For Right which all deliver those pounding drums and dueling guitars. There was even a 7” that came with the original vinyl that included a B-Side with the song Trespasser which is an absolute classic Heavy Load song and should’ve easily made the full-length album. The real highlights of “Death Or Glory” however are clearly the catchy leadoff track Heavy Metal Angels (In Metal and Leather), the pagan tones of The Guitar Is My Sword, the incredibly epic Traveller and my favorite track to this day Daybreak Ecstasy with its atmospheric and acoustic parts delivered in a cold wintery assault on ones senses! Now and forever honoured in the halls of Valhalla and one of my favorite recordings to this day!

Manowar’s “Battle Hymns”? Nope…”Death Or Glory” from Heavy Load!

The Young Boy Looked Up To The Sky
With A Fury Burning In His Eye
He Raised His Fist In The Ice Cold Air
And Cried Out Without Despair

I Will Defy My Destiny
Heaven You Earth…All Will See
To Me Its Death Or Glory!

And The World Trembled…

Country: Stockholm, Sweden
Format Reviewed: Vinyl TLP 822

WOLFHEART – Winterborn 
2013, Independent 

As the winter’s solstice is near, and with that the official beginning of winter, what better time to celebrate … the jolly fat man in his red suit, the hard working – toy making elves and the ever prancing reindeer! Well … not so fast! In the current scenario: the fat man chocked on a GMO gingerbread cookie and died, the elves were actually young children forced into slave labor in some southeast Asian sweatshop, and Sarah Palin and the Trump bros hunted down all the reindeer, so they are now extinct … Oops!

So, all this puts us in a little bit of a pickle. There’s only one other way to celebrate the forthcoming of winter: straight outta Lapland – cue … “Winterborn”read more

Tuomas Saukkonen recorded “Winterborn” as a one-man project under the moniker WOLFHEART, releasing it in October 2013. As Tuomas personally related to us, during an exclusive interview (surrounding the recent release of their latest opus, “Constellation of the Black Light”): “(..) Wolfheart was never meant to be just a solo project but wanted to focus completely alone on the music with the debut.” The very talented musician performs all instruments, including physical drums, and sang on all tracks this release, while guitarist Mika Lammassaari laid out some mighty great solos, a perfect match to the rhythm tracks layered underneath. Shortly after the album’s release, in 2014, Tuomas asked Mika, bassist Lauri Silvonen and drummer Joonas Kauppinen, to join the band. This unchanged lineup recorded three additional full-length albums, to this day.

As far as the deep winter connection, as willingly explained by Tuomas during our interview: “With the production I always aim for cold, harsh but still beautiful and massive result. Those 4 words also describe Finnish winter perfectly. Also many of the different themes still connect to winter in the lyrics even when the actual song is not about winter itself.” This strong winter connection remained the constant theme on all of the band’s sequential releases, whilst properly tagged as “Winter Metal.” The lyrics on “Winterborn” are very “visual”: the blood splattered snow is vividly tangible, with all elements epically dictated by the majestic wall of dense music. Tuomas’ “no rush” vocal delivery adds authority and gravity to the songs’ structure. The acoustic instruments, guitar and piano, cleverly positioned at key moments in the compositions, augment the depth of the intensely textured songwriting.

Reach A Higher Ground
That Reveals The Realm
Under Your Might
White Kingdom Of Frost And Ice

“Winterborn” is an album that I’ve always wanted to write about. A debut album from a band that I consider to be at the pinnacle, so far, of this millennium’s metal underground! Winter (Metal) is here! Emil/UHF

Used by permission. © 2018 by Emil Chiru / UHF

TAAKE – Kong Vinter
2017, Dark Essence Records

Kong Vinter (King of Winter) is Taake’s 7th full album. One of their best in a catalog with very consistent quality. Taake is somewhat controversial, clearly based on some happenings in the past. Those happenings aside, Taake is a leading force in Norwegian Black Metal and has been so for many years now. Taake started out as Thule in 1993, and the name was changed to Taake in 1995. read more

On Kong Vinter Hoest plays all instruments in addition to composing all music; this has been the case since 2008’s self-titled album. Hoest prefers to make the albums and then rehearse the live set with his now consistent live entity with experienced musicians from bands like Helheim, Orkan and so forth. Released digitally late last year, just in time for winter, this is a perfect soundtrack for this winter as well. Though firmly rooted in the tradition of Norwegian BM, there are clearly no rules applying to albums made by Taake, and this album is no different. In spirit it feels like a step back in their discography, yet with a sense of almost progressive songwriting. The lyrics is as always in Norwegian, the mood is west coast Norway. A hip phrase is “all killer, no filler” – some may not agree, but the winter is too long to just listen to single tracks. Play in full and have a dark winter… Harald

2009, Spikefarm Records

The Winter reference for this piece is three-fold. Firstly, there’s the geographical tag – the band’s Icelandic lineage. Secondly, the obvious album title which is Icelandic for the word ‘Cold’. read more

Finally, and most importantly, the atmosphere of Solstafir’s sound. Epic, powerful, emotive and dramatic in its conveyance, ‘Köld’ conjures up visions of driving through landscapes of frozen lakes dwarfed by foreboding mountainous ranges, frost-bitten flora and freezing north winds – Dark, heavy and epic and for me, the perfect winter born soundtrack! KMaN


In silence enshrined: KATATONIA – Dance Of December Souls
1993, No Fashion Records

24 years ago I was walking around the smallest UG local stores with hundreds of cassettes with black and white covers, re-recorded from…some other “original” cassette. I was in search of the blackest bands or the (death-) doomest bands. Back then I spotted a cassette of KATATONIA“Dance of December Souls.” It instantly got into my to-buy list, just looking on the logo only. A few months later, in the spring of 1995, I was in that company of metalheads. Probably we were among the first BM metalheads in the city. I was strongly recommended to listen to KATATONIA. “For Funerals To Come” was already available by that time, so I bought it first. But immediately after I bought “Dance of December Souls” too. I was stunned. And KATATONIA played a huge role for me forever after, when I was searching and benchmarking bands and albums in this so favorite genre. read more

“Dance of December Souls” is really a unique album. It encompasses all best features of the death-doom known as in the beginning of the 90s. However, it goes much beyond this. Back then the likes of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema were paving the path of the genre, delivering slow, heavy, melodic, sorrowful tunes. KATATONIA went further, adding the black part in the mix, and a unique approach in structuring the tracks. With immense diversity, inner change and devastating heartfelt melodies. On top, it is important to mention that this is the DEBUT album of the band released in 1993 – just in the most important period of shaping all the genre.

The tracks are build on the mesmerising guitar melodies of Blackheim over crushing heavy rhythm guitar. These melodies go through enchanted lands, forgotten kingdoms, autumn woods, to haunt the loneliest souls. They travel through distant places to the listener to even more isolated locations. The guitars here are just hypnotising. They are lonely. The vocals of Lord Seth are painful shrieks of desperation into the black spectrum along his heavy hammering, uneven beats – so typical for the early KATATONIA. The keyboards adds unforgettable so magical and mystical atmosphere – some ethereal sorrow line cuts through those parts, just to underline the loneliness.

“Dance of December Souls” is an overwhelming masterpiece, and among the saddest, most forlorn and emotionally heavy music ever made. It is like a huge tomb statue in a graveyard dating from centuries, frozen in time, speaking of distant forgotten times, retelling tearful stories, confined inside all the pains of all suffering souls from distant times – eternally.  All covered in grass, thorns and cold marble. “Dance of December Souls” can drown in an astonishing atmosphere and those 10 tracks to bring out the tears from the eyes, and crush the souls in absolute silence, emptiness, oblivion and desperation. Count Vlad

AURORA BOREALIS (USA) – Northern Lights
2000, NightSky Productions

I remember the first time I listened to this band, and it was with this album. At the first time, I didn’t like it so much. The voice, the production of the album, the songs… And I thought… It was a bad purchase. Yes, I did buy it without knowing the band’s sound. So the CD was put on the shelf… But… After a few days I decided to give it a chance and listen again… So I got it again and put it on my stereo… read more

So the CD starts to spin on my stereo… The first song, the second song, and bla bla bla… Nah, I thought. But I need to give a chance to them… So I listen over and over. And in that time my idea was the same. Nahhhh. Shelf again… Around 2003 if I’m not mistaken, a friend of mine shows me the album “Time, Unveiled” released in 2002. I saw the band’s name and arghhhhh, noooooooo… That time when I arrived home, I look for the “Northern Lights” CD put it again on the stereo, listen to again but a little reticent. And you know what? I start to listen again and I start to like it. Surprised? Yap, me too in that time. Yes I know the guitar could be with more gain, the snare drum could be more audible in the faster parts, the the whole album should have a better production, the voice could be a little lower. Yes that is true, but the album starts to sound good to me. The mix of Black/Death Metal they do starts to sound good to my ears. I started to notice the small details, listened better to the riffs, the changes they do from slower riffs to faster riffs, the way that the voice is put on the songs, etc. I took 3 years to start to like this album. And today… It’s an album that I recommend to all. The Key Keeper


SNOWY SHAW – White is the New Black
2018, Wunderworld Music

You know the Swedes, they just have to fart and a greatest hit pops out. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the words ‘Swedish multi-instrumentalist’ this year; maybe we should just put an end to this redundant phrase and highlight only Swedish mono-instrumentalists in future. The SMI du jour is Tobias Forge, of course, and deservedly so in my probably-just-toppled-in-your-estimation opinion. But have you met Snowy Shaw, the granddaddy of them all? If you’ve delved into the catalogues of King Diamond, Therion, Memento Mori, Dimmu Borgir, XXX, and many more, then you definitely have – but amazingly this is his first solo excursion, after an eclectic career spanning decades and genres. With his striking coupling of flaming white hair with corpse paint, he looks like some kind of albino winter forest demon, and his signature sound is just as distinctive as his visuals. In fact, the two are impossible to separate due to his vivid writing style and the way he uses his voice to paint different characters and moods within his songs. read more

In flagrant defiance of the linear concept of time, Shaw’s White is the New Black, released in May, is a greatest hits in anticipation: it contains six pairs of tracks from albums which haven’t yet seen the light of day, each with their own concept and apparently to be released yearly from now on. With that in mind, exciting things seem to be ahead, for this is one hell of an infectious collection: we have everything from European folklore shrouded in a kind of Cradle of Filth Her Ghost in the Fog-era aesthetic, to dwarves (and by the way, this year’s been a banger for dwarf tunes), to glitter, glam, goth, speed metal, industrial.. oh, fuck it, just listen and you’ll see what I mean: it should be impossible to spin this many plates. Personal highlights are the opener, ‘Krampus’ (the video providing a good visual representation of this plate-spinning, with Shaw playing every instrument and also inhabiting the character of the song’s grotesque subject), and closer, ‘Gothicburg Bridge / Is this my destiny?’ which pulls the curtains over the theatrics to lay bare how straightforwardly great this guy’s songwriting abilities are.

So enjoy the video. Oh – and for anyone interested in further horrifying their children this Christmas, Shaw’s side project ‘Barndoom med Snömannen & hans vänner’ released two albums last year comprising of demented metalled-up versions of Swedish children’s songs. Ace. The Grim Princess