Texas based metal band Vesperian Sorrow have been a constant source of frustration for as long as they have been around. Woefully underrated and underexposed, this is one of the best underground bands playing today. Time after time I find myself amazed these guys aren’t bigger than they are, as they consistently release high quality extreme metal that defies conventional genre tropes (the closest description I have been able to come with is symphonic black metal) and never cease to impress. Their newest album Stormwind of Ages, the first since 2007’s independent release Regenesis Creation, is a drastic departure from their earlier sound, yet inarguably stands tall as their finest achievement, a varied and daring album of epic proportions.

Beginning with what has become an almost rule of thumb introductory track of atmospheric keyboards and eerie sampling, the band blasts into the title track, a staggeringly heavy song that immediately showcases some of the positive changes in the band’s sound. The biggest change to notice is how much more calculated and melodic the guitars are. There are so many moments where I felt compelled to simply close my eyes and bask in the myriad of emotions encompassing each song, no easy feat in a genre that relies so much on dissonance. “An Empire to Mourn” is one of my preferred tracks for repeated listenings as its bombastic, brutal nature really gets the blood pumping. There are some mellow, mid tempo segments that shake things up a bit, only to soon be pummeled into submission by another crushing heavy passage. Great stuff, especially the absurdly tasty solo and keyboard outro.

“Casting Dawn Into Shadow” begins with rolling double bass, intricate lead guitar melodies and a strange, ethereal female voice. More melodic death metal style riffs ensue and are followed by yet another beautiful guitar solo. There are a lot of these to be had, so prepare accordingly. “Crown of Glass” sports a surprising flamenco style guitar break down half way through and continues to conclusion with a wondrously realized blend of flutes and epic keyboards. “Legacies Befallen” is probably the most brutal, straightforward track on the record, with a noticeably more death metal vibe, replete with sinister chords, rapid-fire percussion, and some riffs reminiscent of early black metal of the Norwegian variety.

“Eye of the Clocktower,” my absolute favorite song on display has one of the most delicious lead guitar melodies I’ve heard in some time, and it gives the intro a very Swedish death metal feel layered over standard black metal song structure. An interesting blend to say the least, and it works. The song continues with a sort of early Kovenant-esque feel, with some distinctive, if not outstanding clean vocals thrown in for good measure. “Oracle of the Ashes” is yet another sweeping symphonic affair, with massive sound scapes and brooding, melodic guitars leading the thunderous charge. This is probably the least memorable track on the album, as it lacks a “star” moment that really makes the listener hop on board, yet still warrants repeated listens if only for the scale of the composition.

“Relics of Impurity” sounds like a war anthem, with machine gun snare work and shredding solos that never seem to slow, all the while bringing the tech scale up a few notches with some impressive interaction between the percussion, keys, and guitars. Also of note are some very unique sounding clean vocals towards the end. “Death She Cried” is the album’s “ballad,” although such a title can hardly describe the song accurately. It is obvious that lot of love was put into this particular track, as it just oozes emotion and it’s slow, methodic pace is frequently contradicted by bombastic musical arrangements that really engrain it into the listener’s memory.

“Of Opiates and Accolades” stands as a fitting end to this mammoth production, with a mid tempo, warlike pace that conjures images of the final moments of a grisly battle where the outcome is close and the victor uncertain. There are moments of pummeling heaviness, sorrowful atmosphere, and eventually an elegant climax. The last moment of the song is given to a tasteful solo and slow, meandering keyboard outro. I am left content and satisfied, even a little melancholic that it is over. Production wise, the album was mixed flawlessly, with by far their most coherent sound to date. The guitars a crisp, the bass audible (yes, audible, I know!), the drums cracking, and the vocals settling perfectly in the midst of it all. I would probably have dropped the keys just a notch to create a stronger sense of atmosphere, yet this is a minor complaint. It is really quite remarkable the band was able to create such an excellent sounding album without any financial support. Well done. Vesperian Sorrow remain one of the torchbearers for quality dark metal in the U.S. and Stormwind of Ages simply cements their place at the forefront for years to come.