I mention their origins because 1) everything I’ve read about the band says they’re from NE England and I thought, “Yeah, but where in the NE?” and 2) I think physical environment shapes the music that grows out of it. For instance, I believe the heaviness of Black Sabbath, both lyrically and musically, was born out of the oppressive industrialism of Birmingham, England in the late 1960’s. I believe this because Geezer Butler said it in an interview and Geezer is God and God doesn’t lie. All that is to say, I think it’s poetically, if not scientifically, fitting that a fine symphonic/gothic metal band like Winter in Eden (WiE) came out of a region built on coal and iron mining. I mean coal is black and iron is, well, iron is fricken heavy metal.
Okay, so how is Echoes of Betrayal? This is, after all, a sophomore album and we all know how sideways sophomore albums can end up. If you’re on the edge of your seat chewing your fingernails fraught with anxiety about whether WiE went into a sidelong spin and took out a light post or two, you can relax. Echoes of Betrayal is pretty damn good. Not outrageously, Theatre of Tragedy good, but as we say in Texas, the band is “tighter than bark on a tree”.
Here’s what’s good about WiE: Great musicianship, even keeled, consistent performances, well produced. Here’s what’s not so great about WiE: Musicianship and production values so consistent it starts to sound the same. This isn’t helped with long orchestral openings. Some of that coal and iron was polished to a keen buff.
So let’s get on with the details because as indicting as that last statement may have sounded, this is a good album put together by a good band.
Wayne McAloon on drums and Ian Heddle on bass work a solid rhythm section together. No complaints. All good stuff. Steve Johnson is a fantastic keyboardist, and this is coming from a reviewer who doesn’t think keyboards really have a place in metal. But, okay, this is symphonic goth, so I get it. I’ll focus the rest of my comments on Sam Cull and Vicky Johnson whose sound I think really makes WiE.
Sam Cull handles the dual role of rhythm and lead extremely well. Since this is only their second album I can get away with suggesting he’s still finding his style. Sam’s rhythm style is most interesting in tunes like “Lies” and “Suffer in Silence” where he lets loose a funky, heavy groove that hearkens back to Luis Peraza Jr. of Lucy Brown fame and even some Tom Morella circa Audioslave. He’s solid, if a little predictable, in tunes like “For the Few,” “Possession” and “The Secret Room”. Lead-wise, solos in “The Awakening Chapter III” and “Trapped” are stellar—I just wish the producer would have the balls to let the bottom drop out and go with nothing but bass, drums and wailing lead. Overdubbing just gets me. If there is one guitarist, all I want to hear is one guitar—especially during solos. I will say this, I bet Sam kills in a live performance. At present, Sam’s lead work vacillates between technical (think Li and Tolman) and power (think Iommi). A credit to his skill is that he’s formidable on both sides of spectrum.
Vicky Johnson (apparently not related to Steve, but they have known each other since they were 12). What would a goth metal band be without a strong, female vocal lead who sounds as good as she looks? She has a sultry, deep tone that makes you think brunette. Without exaggeration I can say her vocals are flat out impeccable. My only gripe is I need her to get visceral, to be a little less impeccable and little more raw. There are a few moments, again “Suffer in Silence” is a standout, where she lets loose and you can hear her voice straining. That’s the Vicky I want to hear more of. Where she gets a bit tiresome is during the lullaby-ish songs when the whole fantasy thematic gets a little too campy. The cool thing is Vicky’s voice is incredible right now and this is only album number two. A few more years and she’ll be amongst the best. I can only imagine her in a live performance. And since I’m in Houston, Texas in the good ol’ US of A, imagination and YouTube is about as live as I’m going to get for a while.
All in all, Echoes of Betrayal is good album and well worth the purchase price. Reviewers of their first release, Awakening, were stunned that WiE had not yet been signed by a label. They foresaw nothing but good things for the band. Well, now they’re on Lycan records, they still have their original line up and they’ve thwarted the sophomore curse. Can’t wait for number three.