Record label: Vicisolum
Release date: May 20th, 2016
1. That Night in Prague
3. Worm of Souls
4. They Came with Eyes of Fire
5. Chronic Death
6. The Heart of Coryphee
9. Through the Broken Mirror
11. Dancing in Flames
There has always been an element of dissent when it comes to the classification of ‘symphonic metal’. At one end of the spectrum, bands like Epica and Nightwish deliver a ‘softer’ alternative that focuses on female soprano vocals with arrangements to match. The other end, tending towards dense bombastic compositions  find themselves more suited to the extreme oeuvre within metal, as evidenced by bands like Septicflesh and Dimmu Borgir. Somewhere between these (admittedly closer to the latter) you find bands like Carach Angren who combine elements of death and black metal with symphonic backing and operatic vocals – a recipe that perfectly suits their narrative-based compositions. Israel’s Winterhorde follow a similar pattern on Maestro, their third full-length offering.
This album also follows a storytelling approach, in what the band’s press release describes as an “epic tale of classical music and divine madness while drowning deep into the clutches of the underworld”. An apt description, indeed, where the central concept is built on a performing arts troupe under the sway of the devil. They also exhibit traces of all the aforementioned bands from the heavier end of the spectrum while doing so. Winterhorde carefully combine these elements, building directly on the over-the-top, operatic foundations typified on tracks like ‘Wreckages Ghost’  and ‘The Curse of Gypsy’ on their Underwatermoon album from 2010.
At first listen, this melodramatic methodology comes across as a bit contrived, but the very theatricality almost dictates that they carry the ‘rock opera’ trope to its logical extremes. Viewed in this light, Winterhorde are almost reserved in their execution of the concept, especially if compared with recent offerings along a similar vein. For example, Arcturus’ Arcturian album  (while in no way as progressive as their 1997 release, La Masquerade Infernale) is a rollercoaster of styles and sounds compared to Maestro’s fairly sequential chronicle.
Small touches like the distinctly Mediterranean melody  on ‘Worm of Souls’  may not be a unique approach but are deftly and convincingly arranged within the greater composition. This song is by far the best on the album, balancing the twin vocals most effectively while also introducing some interesting theremin passages into the mix. Its dynamism and constant evolution makes it the most engaging track on Maestro. In this way, Winterhorde closely resemble their better-known countrymen, Orphaned Land, who also sprinkle their music with unexpected traditional elements while mixing clean and growled vocals over the whole. Other noteworthy elements on the album include the delightfully sensitive strings on ‘Antipath’, excellent lead guitar work on ‘Chronic Death’ and some gorgeous keys in the bridge of ‘The Heart of Coryphee’. The title track strays somewhat into the realm of power metal, but has a seriously catchy chorus.
Unfortunately, the aspect of Maestro that makes it so easy to listen to is also its most negative characteristic: while listening to the album positively recalls a large number of other, more recognised acts, it ends up translating as a collection of influences rather than the original effort it should be recognised as. While drawing obvious influences from other bands is entirely commonplace, Winterhorde fall short of establishing their own signature sound. A pity, because the album is not bad at all – the technicality and playing shows great proficiency, all the vocals are delivered with passion and power, the production quality is excellent… Technically, a very good effort, but Maestro just falls short of masterful.
1. A tongue in cheek look at one of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Cubase files (https://www.instagram.com/p/BHSP-QNj3qZ/?taken-by=fleshgodofficial) reveals just how dense these compositions can become.
2. The video for this song, directed by acclaimed Romanian illustrator Costin Chioreanu can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUQ2Vu7ApJU
3. A review of this album can be read here: http://brokenamp.com/arcturus-arcturian/
4. Another lesser known band that exploits this Byzantine scale to a much greater degree is Saudi Arabia’s Al Namrood, who can be investigated further on their label’s Bandcamp page at https://shaytanproductions.bandcamp.com/.
5. The video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUQ2Vu7ApJU) for this song captures the album’s defining “music and divine madness” concept convincingly.