Dawn of Winter - The peaceful dead 3/5

Reviewed: 5-8-09


1. The music of despair
2. A lovelorn traveller
3. Mourner
4. Holy blood
5. The oath of the witch
6. Throne of isolation
7. Burn another sinner
8. All the gods you worship
9. Anthem of doom
10. The peaceful dead

Okay, quiz time. Are you one of those metalheads who delights in bashing the vocals of Sacred Steel mainman and lifelong metal stalwart Gerrit P. Mutz? I've always liked his unique, instantly recognizable timbre, but it's quite popular sport in certain circles to skewer Mutz's voice, to lambaste and ridicule him. There'll be none of that here. So if you fall into that category, please do us all a favor and click through to another review because nothing here will be of interest to you. Dawn of Winter is, of course, the long-running Mutz-fronted German doom act. If you don't like his voice in Sacred Steel, you'll hate it here, because Dawn of Winter's sparse arrangements, ponderous tempos, and mournful atmosphere emphasize vocal melodies far more than the fast'n'furious material that Sacred Steel forges in the molten flames of true iron glory.

There, now that we've jettisoned the Mutz haters, we can settle into a proper review for those of you who are still reading. Dawn of Winter are what might most accurately be termed a pure doom act. Their music isn't funeral doom, power doom, stoner doom, doom/death, Hungarian symphonic/necro doom, or any of those other variations on the style. There are certainly elements of the Candlemass sound in here (such as on the couple of noticeably faster songs), but for the most part Dawn of Winter are not nearly as peppy, punchy, and classic metally as Leif Edling's crew. Instead, the most accurate signpost bands are probably the likes of early Black Sabbath and of course St. Vitus, albeit with more melodic sensibility interwoven in the downtempo grooves. Tempos are slow, sometimes painfully so, giving the melancholy melodies, the towering Iommi-styled riffage of Sacred Steel alum Joerg Knittel, and the heart-wrenching voice of Herr Mutz plenty of room to breathe. So if you like your doom metal to be inflected with interludes of speed and classic/power metal, then you're really looking in the wrong place.

'The peaceful dead' perfectly captures a mood of somber gloom and anguished, lonely reflection. Mutz sounds truly haunting here, and seems even better suited for the bleak soundscapes of Dawn of Winter than the balls-out aggression of his day-job band. The riffs are massive, crushing, and hugely effective. The rhythm section plays in a mostly restrained, understated way so as not to clutter the arrangements or interfere with the sheer doominess of it all. It's. Just. So. Damn. Slow. This music is tailor-made for sitting in a small darkened room all alone, with a cold beer in hand, quietly ruminating on the tragic futility of life and the beautiful majesty of heavy metal music.

The problem is that I'm generally a pretty happy, glass-half-full kind of guy. That makes it difficult for me to tap into 'The peaceful dead' on an emotional level. More fundamentally, I mostly listen to faster music. Give me "Man on a mission". Give me "Generally hostile". Give me "Maniacs of speed". You get the idea. And when I listen to doom, it's usually of the Candlemass/Solitude Aeturnus/Trouble/Heaven & Hell variety, not the St. Vitus school. It's difficult for me to sit still through snails-pace epic cuts like "Holy blood" or the nearly interminable 9-minute title track. That's not to say that everything's molasses-slow on this CD. "Burn another sinner" and "Mournful" are almost galloping, "All the gods you worship" ends with a "Children of the grave" kind of speed burst, and several other tracks are at least sufficiently mid-paced that listening to them doesn't feel like watching paint dry or playing a 45 rpm LP at 33 1/3 speed. But overall, the music unfolds at a quite deliberate pace that may frustrate those yearning for a bit more pressure on the accelerator pedal.

I have a great deal of respect for what Dawn of Winter have accomplished on 'The peaceful dead'. For fans of the slowest, darkest, gloomiest strands of the doom metal gene pool, I would be willing to wager that this CD may be revered as a quivering classic, a benchmark for the genre. If your idea of doom is Solitude Aeturnus or Diommi, however, you should proceed with caution and check out some samples ahead of time to determine whether you can hang with these dismal, desperate dirges. Mutz aptly summarizes the appeal of Dawn of Winter in "The music of despair", where he wails: "Doom is the soul of metal / Primordial and pure / Doom is the true essence of living / Immortal / My cure." As with any religion, either you get it or you don't. Me? I'm on the fence, struck by the artistry of it without being fully drawn in spiritually. That said, the good news for actual or prospective converts is that Shadow Kingdom Records has just licensed 'The peaceful dead' in the United States so it should be much more readily available here than the original Massacre version released last year.




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