Winter Symphony, as an album, is fucking absurd. This isn’t a criticism, Neo-Classical Metal is famed for the thick vein of absurdity that runs from its metallic crust right to its molten core, but while some groups are content to merely hit at the over-enthusiatic bizarreness that marks out the genre, Winter Symphony dares to occupy the valley of the absurd in its entirety. My first hint that this was the case was in the album’s inspiringly triumphant cacophonous beginning. This is where it’ll lose a lot of people; there’s some who will be immediately turned off by the enthusiastic, almost campy ludicrousness of Sage’s Recital. Fans of seriousness might find themselves bouncing off despite the considerable artistic talent on show, and while this might seem a harsh criticism, it really isn’t. Almost anything worth doing is going to be despised by somebody and their overt, powerful musical style implies an almost superhuman level of confidence in their direction. For people who find this sort of overzealous, brash metal to be their taste this is a fantastic album, finding its place on the high borders of a 8/9, whatever that means.
“Kings of Old” is a particular standout: a thrillingly energetic and overt pulsing of unnecessarily electric guitar work and the broad, swelling vocals of John West and Henrick Brockmann blending cheesy delivery and hammy lyrics with more enthusiasm than skill, which is impressive considering just how much skill is involved. It might sound hyperbolic, but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything as badly as John wants to know when you last saw the sun.
It’s this kind of pure enthusiasm that makes the album great – a crashing, vibrant piece of energetic metal that totally contrasts its own wintery subject matter, and this is no better explored than in title track “The Winter Symphony”, an often slower, almost contemplative track that encompasses both the tremendously overwrought vocals, electrifying guitar work and thundering pace of the album while taking the time to slow down and entertain with a gentler, cooler sensibility that feels underused in the earlier tracks. There’s definite Prog influences here too and a guest vocalist, working together in the hope that you’ll make it through the 20 minute track without succumbing to boredom.
I didn’t quite make it.
Winter Symphony is, if you’re familiar with Sage’s Recital, an unsurprising album. There’s no twists, no turns, just exactly the kind of full-throttled, hearty and overzealous metal you’d know to expect from these guys if you’ve heard them before. This definitely feels like one for the fans, while people who found themselves put off by the last album won’t find anything here to change their minds.
Score: 7/9 Hammers
Sage’s Recital | Album: The Winter Symphony | Released: February 15th, 2016