Album Review: Winter Calling – Faces

Winter Calling - Faces

There was something about the cover art to Winter Calling‘s Faces that reminded me of a certain masterpiece by Dream Theater. Scenes from a Memory holds an incredibly dear spot for me as a progressive music fan, and for this band to bring those warm memories back only happened to work in their favour. It’s all the better that Faces seemed to mirror part of the experience of Scenes from a Memory as well. Like that classic, here Winter Calling bury themselves inside the recesses of the psyche, drawing out the darker regions by way of solid, melodically-informed prog metal. It’s nothing the progressive community won’t have heard before, but Winter Calling have quickly established themselves with the help of above-average songwriting and stellar vocal performances.

Winter Calling clearly took no time to get themselves started. Their debut came out to some eclat only lat year, and Faces has been set to push the band forward. This has been marketed as a conceptual piece in their press kit, and I think that impression would have come across regardless. Before getting into the music itself, it should be said that the artwork here is incredibly effective in suggesting the theme behind the album. Hands creeping out of a head through a space shaped like a keyhole… The symbolism isn’t so subtle, but it laid a firm groundwork for the exploration of mental illness and ego Winter Calling curate throughout the record.

Musically, comparisons to melodic prog-power icons like Evergrey or even Sieges Even wouldn’t be undue. Although I’ve had limited luck with bands of the sort, a lot of that reservation lies in the fact that few know how to merge technical writing with melodic hooks and “pop” craft. Winter Calling strike me as one of the bands that give proper heed to both sides of the equation. While they never fully swing into prog territory, keeping their sights mixed on relatively conventional songwriting, the riffs are significantly flashier than the sort you’d usually expect in a purely melodic act. Like Symphony X, Winter Calling boost their hooks with exotic instrumentation and plenty of dynamic changes. Even if Faces aims to hit a lot of the same marks as conventional melodic rock, I seldom feel like I have their approach “figured out”. They take a conventional palette and harness it in a way that sounds unpredictable.

Winter Calling offer some great songwriting– by the end of the first listen, I was impressed to realize several of the tracks already stood out in my memory. “Not Like You” features great riffs and multiple solos shared between guitarist Ian Medhurst and the inimitable John Wesley, whom proggers will know from Porcupine Tree. “Truth from a Lie” boasts one of the album’s strongest choruses, and “A New Me a Few Me” even gets creepy in a quasi-Marilyn Manson way. The most consistently interesting part of Faces is the vocal performance of Chris Hodges. The guy establishes himself as a verified man of one thousand voices here. Although the Marilyn Manson detours and occasional nu-metal screams don’t have me totally convinced, the fact that they’re so memorable actually strengthens the experience. Hodges absolutely stuns with his melodic cleans. The band’s performance impresses across the board but it’s his vocal work that brings Winter Calling to the next level.

I’m happy to see this band having achieved a momentum so quickly. Whether they manage to keep up this prolific spree remains to be seen. As it is, I’m glad there are still bands creating conceptual progressive metal in the traditional mould. Winter Calling have room to improve, but they leave a stronger impression than many others in prog metal today.

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