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JJ's Bizarre Blog #18 - Beware the Howling Winds of Winter


Hello once more everyone! The year of 2023 is drawing to a close and its final days are slowly going by. It has been quite the adventure for me and I'm very proud of what I was able to do this year. I hope your 2023 was just as fulfilling and memorable. One of the highlights of this year for me is of course the Bizarre Blogs series, which is one my favourite projects ever! And would you look at that, there is just enough time left in this year for one more entry. So to give this year a proper send off, let's embrace the snow and ice of the season and have a nice and chill (in more ways than one) entry. In the coldness of December, I present to you a favourite topic of mine - songs about winter!


Since this is quite a loose topic, there isn't really any historical thread to follow, so I'm just going to present you my favourite thematic music in no particular order. Now, there's one mammoth in the room that needs addressing first. December is obviously Christmas season, there's no ignoring that. And believe me when I tell you, I love Christmas! The snow, the trees, the decorations, the lights, the family gatherings, the gift giving, the food and drinks, it's all awesome. But Christmas music...yeah, not my thing, not at all. I try to steer clear from that, so there won't be any of that here. I love the season of winter, it's incredibly beautiful and captivating and while I prefer autumn, winter provides much more creative inspiration. In spirit of that, I replace the Christmas songs with all kinds of songs dedicated to winter itself, snow, ice, etc. This to me is the perfect December soundtrack. So, that's what this blog is dedicated to.


Just to wrap up the Christmas topic, if there has to be Christmas music, let it be the ironic parody kind. Those are thoroughly entertaining and always make me smile. Among those, American comedy metal party animals Psychostick have the best on offer. They have a whole Christmas EP and have also made it an almost yearly tradition to make parody Christmas songs. The Holiday season is incomplete for me without them. Their Rammstein-pastiche of Oh Tannenbaum is my personal favourite.


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Beyond that, there is plenty of choice on how to bring some levity to the Christmas table - holiday cheer, good laughs and good music, all in one. 


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Now then, with the holiday shopping out of the way, let's jump into the snowstorms and enjoy the chilling wrath of winter! In the realms of my beloved heavy metal, winter is a beloved topic. I mean, it's a season of coldness, darkness, dreariness, melancholy and sombre beauty. It's the perfect atmosphere for the dark and emotional music that metal likes to cultivate. One of my favourite winter themed albums is the aptly titled Extreme Cold Weather by Swiss veterans Messiah. A thrash act with heavy influence on the emerging black and death metal genres, these guys have a raw and abrasive sound with powerful headbanging riffs. ECW in particular is a mighty blizzard of blistering guitar, an avalanche of blast beats, all enveloped by wondrous cold imagery. And come on, they have a polar bear on the album cover. You know they mean business!


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Beyond them, there are several bands that are outright obsessed with winter. Norwegian black metal legends Immortal are a very famous example. All of their records are permeated by permafrost from the Northern mountains and you can almost feel the cold wind filled with snowflakes on your skin while listening to their enveloping dark songs.


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Another well known example are the Finnish genre-bending virtuosos Wintersun. Few bands are as fascinated by the pure awe of frigid winter as they are, providing us many icy masterpieces dedicated to the Northern realms. Winter is in their very name, which is in and of itself a bit of a paradox, as there is no such thing as a winter sun beyond the Arctic Circle, the polar night submerging the lands in darkness for weeks on end. With their blend of symphonic and folk elements and versatile and sophisticated instrumentation drawing from black, death and power metal, Wintersun paint incredible winter landscapes and use them as backdrops to tell fantastical tales. 


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On a more experimental side, we cannot talk about winter music without mentioning the enigmatic project called Paysage D'Hiver. I mean, the name literally means "Winter Landscape". This one man enigma of black metal and dark ambient music adjacent to dungeon synth is a very captivating sound that perfectly encapsulates the permafrost and glacier laden Alps that it was born from. It's a pure avalanche of atmospheric riffing and heavy ambient worldbuilding and it's, dare I say, very cool.


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One more example, less fixated on winter but still relevant, are the British black metal storm Winterfylleth. Their name is derived from the Old English world for the month of October and literally translates as "Winter's Full Moon". While less fixated on snowy landscapes, these chaps play a cold and atmospheric style of black metal, that is fresh in sound but also very oldschool in its approach. They tell many enthralling tales from old English and Anglo-Saxon folklore, creating an experience that is immersively archaic and thoroughly epic. 


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There have been new bands dedicating themselves to winterworship too, such as US based death metal powerhouse Frozen Soul, whose fascination with all things ice and frost permeates throughout everything they do.


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Naturally, beyond fullon dedication to it, there are plenty of metal bands that include winter, snow, cold and the North as inspiration on some of their tracks. Going by genre, obviously black metal is king here. A lot of it comes from Scandinavia, which with its ice-capped mountains, fjords, glaciers and sunless nights is the perfect place to birth the perfect icy tunes. The dense atmosphere that black metal seeks to create, a glorious storm of sorrow and beauty, is the perfect representation of the sombre beauty of winter itself.


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An interesting offshoot of black metal that is most winter-ey indeed is Viking metal, one of the most misunderstood and mislabelled genres ever. Now, I mentioned in a previous blog entry that lyrical themes do not define genres, musical stylistics do. Viking metal does indeed focus a lot on Norse mythology and Scandinavian history, meaning a lot of questing through snow covered lands to uncover hidden primordial secrets, lots of longships journeying through iceberg infested waters and lots of winter warfare, making this style a perfect fit for this entry. However, Viking metal has a stylistic definition too. Initially, it was an offspring of black metal, using many of the same fundamentals, but with a lot more keyboards, symphonic elements and folk instruments.


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Later, it became a style more akin to classic heavy metal, with bombastic riffs, a slower throdding style like an army marching through snowy mountain paths, epic scale and still retaining the folk and symphonic elements. Essentially, if it sounds like Bathory's Hammerheart, it's likely Viking metal.


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Sailing on, death metal dabbles with winter topics sometimes too, especially when it comes to European bands. Melodic death metal in particular, with its mighty injection of extra melodies, fits the vibe of fimble winter perfectly.


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Doom metal really loves cold weather. Naturally slow, dark and brooding, stomping forward like a bear in deep snow, the dreary yet comforting feeling brought on by the coldness of winter is perfectly matched by doom metal.


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Dig through enough snow and you might find some folk and power metal about winter too - epic and powerful anthems about glorious journeys through frozen landscapes. For the hero determined enough, no harsh winter will be a deterrent!


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Beyond all this, it would be very remiss of me to not talk about video game music any chance I get. Naturally, snowy winter levels are a staple of games from all kinds of genres and any composer worth their snow-melting salt wouldn't pass up the opportunity to enhance the ambience of such a location with some excellent winter tunes. The landscape would feel incomplete without them. 


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Right, I think we wandered the cold long enough. There is always more to explore, but pacing oneself is important. Come in, sit by the fire and warm your bones! I hope that after this adventure, you too can share in my appreciation of winter and all that it offers. It symbolises death, but rebirth as well! The world is encased in ice in order to thaw out and be reborn again. The seeds of plants are buried and protected beneath the snow, which melts in spring, bringing them to life and filling rivers with new power. Winter may seem cruel, but she is necessary for continued life and if you embrace everything she has to offer, she can be your friend as well. Not to mention that she's hauntingly beautiful. So this year, beyond your usual Christmas songs, make sure to indulge in some winter wonder as well, my playlist is ready for you to explore!




Addendum:  And thus, this concludes the Bizarre Blogs for 2023. It has been quite the ride, ladies and gentlemen. As I said before, this is one of the best projects I've ever had the pleasure of working on and doing this as part of the Community has been an absolute blast. I just want to say thank you for all the support and that I am just getting started! I have plenty of ideas coming soon and I can't wait to share them with all of you. It's time for a bit of a break, but rest assured, the Bizarre One will thaw from the ice, awake from hibernation and be back with more knowledge! Merry Christmas, enjoy the holiday spirit, have a great celebration for the coming of the new year and I will see you all again in 2024!