Appalachian Winter- The Epochs That Built The Mountains (2014)

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Like clockwork. First one song. Then another. And another. Days, weeks, months, and then suddenly, a completed Appalachian Winter album is in front of you. This has long been the prerogative of one Dan Klyne, the man that has filled these four walls with some of the most awe inspiring compositions the metal world has ever been privy to. But with two additional partners in tow, Randy Smith and Mike O'Brien, and a working relationship with Nine Gates Records, the constant is not change; it's more of the same expansive, thunderous symphonic metal that we've come to expect seemingly every few months.The Epochs That Built The Mountains finds this now trio in a beautiful comfort zone that won't soon contract or disappear. In fact, it takes everything in the catalog and expands upon it. Whatever your reason for listening before, you'll find a reason to believe this trip will never end.

Building on past successes, Laurentia is equal parts ambition and reality. After what amounts to a soothing intro, you are thrust into the heart of a Phantom Of The Opera-esque melody, highlighted but a deep set of growls. With an expansive instrumental, the song has a sweeping effect, catching you up in every subsequent melodic passage, and every horn overture. The composition aspect is what has made the music of Appalachian Winter universally solid, and that doesn't stop here. Taking a step up in tempo, Close The Ocean shares a riff focus with the likes of Dethklok, with the guitar parts that drive the verse sounding fit for Mordhouse. Klyne's vocals have developed their own distinct sound, much improved over his first efforts. But it is the ominous tones of strings and horns, all of the orchestral sound and thunder, that are the true signature. Never is it felt more profoundly than when it comes face to face with metal incarnate. Rise To The Heavens sees all of these things layered atop one another, from programmed drum beats to distorted guitars and a chorus of brass. Four minute mark is the culmination.

There is a power in the songs here that surpasses past work. The Last All-Land has an amazing way of drawing you in very quickly, and very efficiently. It might be the strength of the kick drums, or the blaring of horns, but once Klyne unleashes the first scream, it's already too late to turn back. The blackened sections are darker than before, and they sound larger than life. It is with very little hesitation that this track becomes the best song in the Appalachian Winter catalog. Conversely, Clay Becomes Stone embodies the softer side, bringing along with it a whimsical quality. These orchestral epics are not detractors from the mood, but enhancers. They sound natural, as though they are the true logical progression here, despite the obvious changes from one track to the next. What stands out as the album wears on is the drastic differences in each track, the changes in which instrument plays a starring role. The re-dedication to acoustics on The Cycle of Sea And Mountain's opening stanza is important, in that it sets up so much of what happens next. Clean choruses and growled verses give way to a massive orchestra, only to come together in the last movement.

Sometimes lost in the array of instruments and vocal tones is Klyne's lyrical composition, based so often in the natural world. On Watergap, he waxes poetic in his own way about the strength of the water. He asks, "How can it be that the river can stand its ground, and say, 'The mountain shall not rise here, and my course to the sea shall remain, unabated'?" It's a brilliant rhetorical question, carried on the backs of distorted guitars and drums. Once you've taken the time to read along, or even dissect the lyrics, there is a greater appreciation for what you're enjoying. Withstand The Ages, then, makes perfect sense in both sound and structure. The horns blaring brings to mind the memorable Jurassic Park score, only covered in a thick layer of dirt and Earth. The midsection of the track is tremendous, giving fodder for the headbanger and composer alike. The final track is the most diverse still. It's on Hymn To The Ancient Mountain that Klyne uses anything and everything in the Appalachian Winter arsenal. From humble beginnings, the song rises; acoustic and melodic at first, then explosive and dynamic later. 

There is something to be said for the Appalachian Winter method of song recording and release. When each song is finished, it is unveiled to the world, not squirreled away for that fabled "someday" release date. But there is a subtle beauty to this strategy. Sure, you can hear each song, standing alone. As they come together, though, they deliver far more meaning and satisfaction. When The Epochs That Built The Mountains went up in its entirety, there was no wait and see atmosphere surrounding it. It was time to just hit play and let it rip. What Dan Klyne started, has now been furthered with a little help from his friends. But, much like his other works, it leaves me with a conflicted end. The album, this work of composition, structure, and texture, is everything you've come to expect from the name. But just imagine a world where Appalachian Winter had the resources, the production and the backing of a major label. Klyne and company would be making symphonic metal albums the world would be holding up as the standard for decades.


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