For most New Englanders, winter is pinnacle of all that is horrible and tedious about living in the Northeast—it’s full of dark days, cold weather, abundant strains of the flu, and more shoveling-related back injuries than you can count. To be fair, though, I actually like it. I adore the cold air, and how the snow looks draped over all the skeletons of trees around my neighborhood—I don’t even mind shoveling that much.
The winter, however, is much more than a sight to behold; it goes further than simple visual pleasure. There are always themes and feelings and thoughts trapped in the layers of every season, that come to us at the most idiosyncratic (and, some, idyllic) of times. They can be different for every person—for instance, someone might think of the rain when it comes to spring and become depressed at the gloominess of the clouds, while others might look at that same weather as a sign of renewal and rebirth. The following albums present some of the ways I’ve looked at this season—a lot of it comes from getting into an artist at a certain time of the year, but there’s also something musically about these releases that makes me immediately think about the winter.
36 Crazyfists—A Snow Capped Romance
Okay, so the title of this album makes its inclusion seem a bit hackneyed, but I chose A Snow Capped Romance not for its title but for the feelings that are evoked for me when I listen to it. For those who don’t know, 36 Crazyfists are a metalcore band out of Alaska whose music has been some of my favorite from the genre. They aren’t one of those bands that applies hardcore punk mentalities to melodeath riffing and (in my opinion) somewhat-boring songwriting—rather, they use the emotional depth and lyricism of post-hardcore, and combine that with the bombastic and brutal qualities of metal for something truly unique. Brock Lindow’s vocal phrasings make 36 Crazyfists extra-intriguing—it’s a little like Claudio Sanchez (of Coheed & Cambria) in that his pronunciation while singing has an interesting layer of passion on top of everything in a sort of patois, if you will. The band’s songwriting isn’t something out of this world or experimental, but it keeps you listening, and rests on solid musicianship rather than taking any real huge aural leaps and bounds.
But why choose this album? For me, A Snow Capped Romance just sounds like the winter. Take a listen to a track like “Bloodwork” (embedded above)—the band works in some serious melody into their music, but it isn’t perfectly happy nor perfectly sad—it’s bittersweet; it’s a double-edged sword. All the elements in the music are sort of aware that things simply end, that decay and entropy exists—sort of like the winter. The snow looks beautiful when it’s falling, but weeks later it can be nothing more than ugly gray slush on the sides of the road. More than that, the way the songs are written—both lyrically and instrumentally—feel smaller and more intimate than epic. It’s not about facing a demon in a blizzard (though that sounds like a pretty awesome premise for a song), but about personal issues between people, and sometimes simpler lifestyles—best exemplified in “Song for the Fisherman”—where the biggest issue isn’t the political climate (regardless of where one’s political beliefs stand), but the relationship between two humans. This all speaks as something very winter to me—when the snow is falling on your house, there is nothing better than being inside with someone you love to witness it.
How To Dress Well—What Is This Heart?
It’s no secret that I adore Tom Krell, better known for his R&B project How To Dress Well—his latest release (2016’s Care) was in my top ten for last year. And while Care is indeed an amazing album, What Is This Heart? makes this list because of its simultaneous coldness and—ahem—heart. Care came off as a warmer affair, with Krell embracing a more approachable, pop-oriented sound; What Is This Heart is much different, with the production dipping its toes into experimental approaches to R&B (e.g. the use of unconventional acoustic guitar samples and atmospheric synths), and Krell’s vocal phrasing sometimes coming off as alien and almost against the beat as he sings. It’s an interesting dynamic to experience: the production has a sort of artificiality to it, almost like some of the darker moments on The Weeknd’s early mixtapes—but then Krell’s passionate falsetto gives you a big aural bear hug and tells you that everything’s going to be all right.
To be honest, though, when I thought of this Soul Curator, What Is This Heart was the first album that popped into my mind, mostly because of the time and place I really got into it. Whether it’s “winter” music is up to your own interpretation (as are all the albums here), but it is the definition of winter to me. I can still remember listening to this album in my car, way back in January of 2014, driving to and from the gym in the middle of a snowfall, dodging horrible New England drivers. It’s like that song “Winter Wonderland”—the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful—and that fire happened to be Tom Krell crooning through my car speakers while I tried not to fishtail on the icy roads.
I couldn’t write this article without including at least one black metal album. If there’s one genre of music that screams barren wasteland, its black metal—especially with the vein of bands that took what Darkthrone was doing on Transylvanian Hunger and put their own spin on it. Scotland’s Barshasketh seriously wowed me with this album when it was released back in 2015, and the more I listen to it, the more I can hear winter, despite the fact that I first heard it while walking around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Manhattan’s Central Park during an especially sunny September.
Arguably the biggest element of black metal—aside from the imagery and those nasty-yet-beautiful screeched vocals—is the abundant use of tremolo picking. When I was first dabbling in the genre I remember Scott Murphy telling me he liked the atmosphere black metal created. I didn’t quite understand him at the time, but when I first listened to Ophidian Henosis, it suddenly made sense. We aren’t talking about atmospheric black metal—I mean straight up old-school Scandinavian rawness—Darkthrone, In the Nightside Eclipse-era Emperor, early Ulver: bands that were able to generate atmosphere with beautifully performed tremolo riffs and blast beats. Ophidian Henosis hearkens back to those times, but with modern production. Almost every single second of this album sounds like you’re stranded in the rural reaches of Norway in the middle of the night, with nothing to comfort you but a small fire made from kindling and scraps, and the thought that maybe, just maybe the wolves won’t find you tonight as the wind seems to pierce your flesh like a knife. It’s winter, and about as metal and kvlt as you can fucking get.