I first heard Archaic Winter last year when a friend of mine passed me a copy of their 2008 release The Psychology of Death, which took me by surprise as I gave it a listen while working on some stuff around the house and found myself inadvertently repeating it, it seemed to catch my undivided attention in spots due to atmosphere and especially the guitar work. Then much to my surprise when I opened up the booklet to see who was in the band it was a lone guitarist, Greg Maupin, and the killer death vocals were done by Peter H. of Bloodsoaked. It was a pretty solid and heavy album of great death black metal fusion, especially with the production and the buzzing down-tuned guitar tones, but the thing that blasted me the most was the guitar full of melodic leads, shreds, riffs, and a killer command of rhythm. Greg really captured the best of all metal genres without really leaving the death/black realm, it was basically like a down tuned, less distorted black metal band and it really fit my love of the old Greek black metal scene where bands like Nergal, Devisor,etc. were stripped down and raw buzz machines but still had some melody and death/thrash influences present that made them so distinct and that’s what AW pretty much was.  Now after five years of Greg further fine-tuning his axemanship and bringing on a full time (?) vocalist Archaic Winter release Esoteric Doors, and with it bringing a different feel and sound, this one being a more treble hissing black metal sound with a feel that I can’t fully describe because it’s not exactly one thing or another.

For example, “Hails to Baphomet” begins with an almost doom intro that carries on for a good minute before the black explosion comes in. I’m liking what I hear, especially in Greg’s handy work but the vocal effects seem a bit too much for me on here for some reason, they just feel unnatural but even in the sense that they feel forced or almost comical. At this point I’m hoping this mostly due to prior bias toward Peter’s throat mastery on the predecessor and this is something that I’ve tried to get over with each listen to separate the two form each other because both vocalists are pretty solid and unique but obviously from two very different styles. The hints of doom in some of the riffs, licks, and rhythms will continue through the chugging nine song album, but somehow the other elements of thrash, death, traditional metal act together in order to maintain the lack of generic “cookie-cutter” exploits that have become so common, especially in black metal, to where it’s not a style anymore that’s the focus because the band and songs are actually well done. There’s also real classic 90’s vibe that prevails throughout the album and once I hit “Ophiucus (Sign of evil)” and “Esoteric Doors” I’m beginning to get more amped on the throbbing pulse of bass and the solid riffing with a decent circular feel that gives the songs a bit of “hook” which is something that I honestly miss alongside guitar solos in metal, but the vocals are beginning to really suit the music well and my bias begins to dissolve into the acidic haze of the sulfuric plume they emit.

“Esoteric Doors” begins with a strong bass line that works well with the simple treble black metal melody to lead me in and set up a more ephemeral mood before the tempo kicks it up a notch and the song gets a bit more oomph, so to speak. It’s here that the song title also fits the song itself, I honestly love the slightly prog noodling hints in the guitar leads, but the vocals due this really classic and simple sort of fluttering from left to right and then back into stereo that, for some reason, really pumps up the impact of the song, it really gives an old school black metal cult vibe to it and now with the vocals being less Beherit and more spleen piercing Pest era Gorgoroth I’m hearing and feeling something that’s a new direction for an already solid band and am pretty damn stoked with what I’m hearing as I also compose this thing.  So at this point I’m now on song 8, “I am the antichrist”, and am noticing a smooth continuum from song to song beginning with “Ophiucus…”, song 6, and the whole hypnotic pull is starting to take over making me want to repeat this last triplet of songs over and over again, but once I revisit the album again over the course of many listens I begin to find I’m pretty much hooked on the album as a whole.

Now I’m not going to claim this is a masterpiece or anything like that, it certainly has some issues that have been specific to my comparison between the two versions of the band which have required me to take the time to develop that separation, but with that out of the way there’s just way too much good stuff here to piss on petty hang-ups. If you want an album that actually holds on to the 90’s black metal scene, does not downplay production to recreate it, combines some of the best rhythmic ploys of the great metal bands of past and present, and will possibly give you a bit of what even a reasonably great album did/should without inflated circumstances than Esoteric Doors is a must hear. I can’t say that everyone will love it or even like it, but comparing anything to Satyricon, Emperor, Darkthrone, Dissection, etc. will surely yield disappointment anyway, plus the friggin’ guitar work and song structures/dynamics are just outrageously killer. Greg has serious chops!!!! I still am more partial to The Psychology of Death, but both albums are strong and great in their ways.

Here’s a link to sample the album and even buy the digital download version:

http://warhellrecords.bandcamp.com/album/archaic-winter-esoteric-doors-cd-2013

Being in Euros it’s a it pricey for a download, but if you contact the band I’m sure they can sell a copy at a reasonable price. But for now just check out the sounds above and contact them if desired, they’re really pretty cool and humble guys:

https://www.facebook.com/ArchaicWinter