Ryan Plunkett’s take:
Some albums you come across, you cannot just simply pop them in and listen to a track or two. The Imaginary Direction of Time, the latest offering from progressive Norwegian metalers Winds, is just such an album. Being a fan of their prior release, Reflections of the I, I was excited to hear the new album and I personally was not let down. The musicianship remains as intact as ever and I think Lars Eric Si’s voice is even more enjoyable this time. With the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on their side for the string arrangements, it only adds to the impact of the album. Everything you would expect from the band are here, Jon Axel von Blomberg’s (aka Hellhammer) drumming is as tight as ever, Carl August Tidemann’s whirlwind leads jump at you from every corner, and Andy Winters’ beautifully written piano pieces add yet another solid element to the fold.
As I mentioned, Lars Eric Si’s voice definitely seems to have improved. You just get a feeling as you are listening to the album he is more willing to try things he did not with the last album and it is quite obvious. His contribution to the album feels stronger and shows the band has not been slacking by any means. One thing I loved is hearing the beautiful work of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s melodies over Tidemann’s guitar riffs. When listening to this album there is always something going on so that you are never bored. I am working on something like my eighth or ninth listen and I am still picking out melodies I completely missed before. I would have to say I enjoy Tidemann’s leads even more this time around as well. Listening to their complexity blend beautifully with the rest of the songs is a treat in itself. Winters’ piano work is yet another appreciated element. In a sense at times it seems to take a back seat, but in another sense, it just combines with the rest of the instruments to bring forth another melody and add to the overall thickness of the tracks. However, his standout piano leads are nothing short of soothing to listen to.
The Imaginary Direction of Time seems to be a slight improvement over previous efforts but not fully what I was hoping for. My only real complaint with the album is in the production. Sometimes the drums get a bit lost in the mix and the guitars (when not doing an amazing lead) just sound a bit muddy. During parts where Tidemann is taking care of more chord progressive riffs or chugging, it just does not hold a crunch or clarity, which if it were there would have added to the overall sound presented here. As I said, this is an album for those that want to sit down and just relax and absorb the music, because there is a lot to absorb here. If you are into thinking-man’s metal, then this is for you. Progressive, classical, and somber all at once. Listen and enjoy.
Daniel Martinez’s take:
Winds is the result of a collaboration between Lars Eric Si (Khold), Carl August Tidemann (Arcturus), Andy Winter and almost legendary drummer, Jan Axel von Blomberg (also known as Hellhammer–and no, I won’t mention what bands he’s a member of). Hailing from Norway, this is a rare band to categorize. Some call it Classical Metal, while others prefer to brand them as Prog Metal, and some might even call them a Doom band. In a way, Winds are all of that and more. They mix musical elements that are characteristic to all three sub-genres, from classical instrumentation to over the top vocals. One of their stronger points is their ability to use keyboards in a non-obtrusive or cheesy way (unlike most of their Prog Metal peers), exuding a mournful tone, somewhat reminiscent of My Dying Bride. Although the public opinion seems to be split between those who find them boring and those who find them refreshing, it is my opinion that these guys are worthy of all the praise they’ve received for their first LP, Reflections of the I, released in 2002. Two years later, they return in top form with The Imaginary Direction of Time, an offering that feels more like a continuation of Reflections of the I rather than a step into uncharted waters. This is not to say the album is a disappointment; if anything, the album’s resemblance to its predecessor is one of its stronger points. despite its minimum innovation, it’s every bit as solid as their aforementioned first LP.
The album starts off in a strong manner, with “What is Beauty?”, a track adorned with sombre string arrangements (provided by members of The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra) and virtuoso guitar playing. This track sets the tone for the rest of the album, as very few songs deviate from the structure found herein. This is perhaps my main gripe with this release. Somehow, the songwriting feels a little formulaic. Upon the first few listens, the majority of the tracks struck me as too similar to distinguish from one another. I had to give the album some time to grow on me; eventually I started seeing a special uniqueness to each track, although I can’t say they’ve stopped feeling somewhat formulaic. This is the second time I make such an accusation, and in my defense, I shall explain my reasons. You see, nearly all the tracks in The Imaginary Direction of Time seem to start with either a string introduction or a piano melody, developing into a crescendo of “progressive” guitar playing (with some wonderful solos), and receding into yet another moment of orchestral prowess. All those elements are present in virtually every song found in the album. Because of this, it is likely that you’ll find the album a little tedious at times, but chances are it’ll grow on you soon enough.
Every single member of Winds shines on this release. Vocalist Lars Eric Si shows the most notable improvement, daring to experiment with his voice a little more than in past efforts. Tidemann does not disappoint; he adds his trademark, lush guitar work to the mix, without resorting to full-on guitar wankery. Andy Winter keeps things elegant with his competent keyboard touches, never getting in the way of the overall ambience of the music, and never making the band sound cheesy. Finally, Hellhammer provides simple (yet effective) drumming, without sounding restrained or out of place. For those of you unfamiliar with Winds, but not with Hellhammer, I’ll warn you beforehand: this isn’t the type of band that requires relentless double bass drumming (although there is some) or any type of sonic brutality, for that matter. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra is perhaps the strongest presence on The Imaginary Direction of Time. Their string arrangements give the album a very dramatic atmosphere, without making it sound too over the top.
True to the band’s pensive nature, the lyrics deal with philosophical themes and ideals. What more could you expect from song titles such as “Theory of Relativity” or “The Fireworks of Genesis?” Some may find the lyrical subject matter too pretentious to take seriously, but I think it suits the music well. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found yourself rolling rolling your eyes (or snickering) at some of the album’s more peculiar lines.
It’s very obvious that the members of Winds are a meticulous bunch. The album seems very carefully composed in all departments, from the music, to the lyrics to the artwork. The end result is a very solid package, one that isn’t likely to disappoint past fans, and good enough to attract some new ones. As I mentioned before, these fine chaps have proved themselves worthy of any and all praise they might receive. While it is true that The Imaginary Direction of Time is not very different from its predecessor, it’s still every bit as satisfying as said release. This is especially recommended to fans of Classical and Prog Metal. Hell, even some of the more tolerant Power Metal fans might find this appealing. Give it a shot, at the very least, it’ll make you look cool and distinguished to all the soon-to-be-unemployed members of your local College’s Philosophy club.