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Welcome My Last Chapter (1996)
 

This album is a bit of a mystery. This is the one and only full-length album from Sweden's Vinterland. Prior to this, they'd only released a couple of demos. Upon releasing this album, they seem to have vanished. Such an occurrence, in itself, is not all that strange. However, when coupled with the fact that the material is of such high quality, it becomes difficult to understand how and why Vinterland became such an obscure band. Even more mysterious is that they seem to have been one of the few Black Metal bands to avoid getting raped by the typical Unisound/Hellspawn production demons, namely Dan Swanö. Not only does Vinterland share a similar sound to the mighty Dissection, in that they play cold and melodic Black Metal, but they also survived Swanö's unreliable skills as a producer, during the winter of 1995. Released in the autumn of 1996, on No Fashion, Welcome My Last Chapter offers one final mystery in that (as the story goes) the original title of the album was meant to be Wings of Sorrow. This makes sense, as it is also the title of the epic song that closes the record. For whatever reason, the other text was present on the cover and they changed this to the official title.

I first discovered this band during the freezing winter months and was, immediately, drawn to it. I had been seeking something else in the vein of early Dissection as well as Sacramentum's Far Away From the Sun and Sorhin's I Det Glimrande Mörkrets Djup. This was soon recommended to me and I made haste in acquiring it. It was exactly what I was looking for, and more. It's amazing that it took so many years after its release for me to discover this gem.

"Our Dawn of Glory" begins with a clean/acoustic passage that creates a calm feeling, which is abruptly ended by the furious and razor sharp attack of the bitter cold guitar riffs and the unearthly screams. Everything is very clear and powerful, much like the sound on Storm of the Light's Bane, though the overall atmosphere is more somber, especially as it concerns the vocals. The opening moments are as intense as they are memorable. The drums simply beat the life right out of you and the frozen tremolo riffs carry your spirit far beyond on the cold winds of nothingness. The pace is very dynamic, with many twists and turns, and even some tasteful keyboard usage, handled by Dan Swanö. This song is defined as much by the blindingly fast and powerful parts as it is by the slower, more melancholy melodies. It's this structural contrast that lends so much to the epic nature of the song, and the entire record. The track then ends with a similar clean section to that which began things. This is definitely the way to begin an album.

Following this is "I'm An Other In the Night", which starts out with a mournful guitar melody and truly sorrowful vocals. The speed slowly builds up, until it erupts in a fury of hatred and misanthropy, fueled by the tremolo picking and blasting drums. There's some variation in the drumming that adds well to the overall dynamic and keeps things interesting. The vocals have an icy feeling to them, as they're not entirely clear. The bleak feeling becomes even more harsh, later in the song, as things slow down a bit. In this sense, the harshness is not defined by speed but by the feeling conveyed. As the acoustic guitar, briefly, joins the rest, there's some added sense of hopelessness. As the track progresses, the intensity builds and builds, until the pace suddenly slows down again, and the effect is similar to that of slicing open your flesh and the relief that you feel as you see the blood wash over your flesh and drip down onto the snow-covered ground.

"So Far Beyond... (The Great Vastforest)" continues from where the previous song left off, featuring a variety of nocturnal sounds, such as that of wolves howling at the full moon, accompanied by a somber piano piece. This creates a very calm and introspective atmosphere, though one that calls to mind unpleasant thoughts and desires of an ultimate ending to this feeble existence.

The instrumental interlude fades into "A Castle So Crystal Clear", which unleashes a dark and mournful feeling that is not too far removed from old Katatonia. The song is rather slow-paced, as the percussion dictates, despite the tremolo picking. This changes, after a couple minutes, and things pick up a little bit. There are some interesting down-picked parts that work well to add a new dimension to the sound, while the drumming keeps a blistering pace beneath.

"As I Behold the Dying Sun" starts with the sounds of falling rain, distant whispers and clean guitars all coming together to create a dark and sorrowful feeling. As the rest of the instruments come in, the tremolo riffs blend with the doomier parts to keep things interesting and dynamic. Again, the early moments possess a similar vibe to that of old Katatonia, before going back to the melodic and cold Black Metal sound that dominates most of the album.

The next song is "Vinterskogen", beginning with a slow and melancholy vibe. The cold and mournful melodies are accompanied by tortured screams and some eerie spoken word passage that adds to the mysterious feeling. The atmosphere is accentuated by simple utilization of the keyboards and acoustic guitar. The feeling is very calm, yet depressive and hopeless. The lead guitar melody, near the end, adds to the overall aura.

"Still the Night Is Awake" bursts forth with frostbitten tremolo riffs and more otherworldly screams. This one is fairly fast-paced, keeping the frozen intensity and the epic structure, despite the relatively short length. Later in the song, things slow down and the atmosphere becomes more majestic as the blizzard engulfs your spirit and carries you toward oblivion.

This is followed by "A Winter Breeze", which has a strange opening riff. It's not as cold as the majority of the album, though the bleak and hopeless feeling is more present than ever. The typical frozen riffs do weave throughout the song, as well as slower open-arpeggio riffs that add to the desolate feeling. The middle section of the song is reminiscent of early Burzum in structure and vibe. This one works as a good lead-in to the final track.

The album concludes with "Wings of Sorrow", which features slow and mournful riffs, a spoken word passage that is accompanied by tormented screams in the background and some acoustic bits as well. This is the longest song on the album, clocking in at just under nine minutes. It takes its time to build up, creating an atmosphere of cold nocturnal sorrow.


"Come, come please and grab my hands
And may the frozen winds caress my empty soul..."

Something about this part reminds me of the first Ophthalamia album, A Journey In Darkness. The vocals are even more unrestrained than on the previous songs, giving this one added passion and intensity of a different kind. The guitar melodies are memorable in a very haunting sense, sure to flow through your veins like ice water. The songwriting is absolutely brilliant and makes one wonder how and why this band faded into obscurity after this release, especially considering how many inferior bands were left standing. By the end of the song, the guitars and drums fade out as a somber piano outro ends this epic song.

"Let the wings of grief carry me to the kingdom far beyond all light"

This is an amazing album that should be sought after by anyone with a preference for cold and somber Black Metal, in the vein of Dissection, Burzum, Sacramentum, etc. My only disappointment comes from the fact that Vinterland only made one full-length and that it took me so long to get my hands on it. Buy this and let it carry you on frozen winds...
 
(9 Jan. 2010)

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