Although metal has evolved through several micro phases between the inception of its true underground in a dark speed metal, including its first sober instantiation in Bathory’s The Return, and its final differentiation as an artistic movement nurtured in the bosom of metal, the notion that there is “first wave” and a “second wave” is utter nonsense (some even hold the belief in a “third wave”, which is not even metal at all anymore). This fallacy is held as true by many an ignorant, but even though it does seem like a misconception becomes true the more it is repeated, it does not change the structure of physical reality. Genre distinction on a musical level exists and is done at all levels, including this “lowest” physical level, hence, popular fallacies do not change the reality of music, only its perception and interpretation.
Tarnkappe bring in Winterwaker a black metal that demonstrates a maturity that does not abandon contact with the natural roots of the genre. Hence, while other modern bands that attempt dumbing down and castrating the genre try to adopt some of its exterior tropes into the fold of post-rock or shoegaze, Tarnkappe wields a sword forged in the traditional way but with the advantage of three decades of refinements in composition. These insights enrich and grow from the one and only black metal from the early 90s, themselves being, in turn, firmly rooted in Bathory. Taking Tarnkappe as somehow not taking interest in the developments of the genre is just completely misguided and shows a misunderstanding of the musical reality within which their music unfolds.
Percussion in Winterwaker takes after electronic music beats and double bass action, as most black metal well should. Sharing a same drummer with Kaeck, the likeness can be felt, yet these are not generic patterns but actually react to the guitar riffs, making both instances incredibly different from each other despite the obvious familiarity. This should never be confused with the influence of rock or of punk in its original form. For in underground metal the use of the d-beat goes back to its roots in hardcore and eventually grindcore. These drums show almost as much variety in expression as the guitars do, giving the impression of the fabric of the music contracting and expanding under the power of Will.
What strikes one the hardest in this album is the dynamism shown by the guitar players plenty expressions along the neck of the guitar. Its lines remain remarkably singable, while it provides a surprising abundance of melodic ideas that are executed with a healthy variety of technical approaches that do not depart from a same style or texture. This must be so, for the music of Tarnkappe is based entirely on huge guitar phrases that are tremolo picked without that impeding them from making imaginative and balanced use of the full spectrum of frequencies available to the instrument. The music is composed over a main guitar and a complimentary guitar, which is not to be confused with leading and rhythm roles —mostly meaningless terms in proper (underground) metal. The texture, in the tradition of classical European music, is mostly homophonic with all that you might expect within that paradigm. On the metal application of this, sometimes the second guitar will echo and support the first in grayish afterthoughts or expanding it by playing a same note with a different technique.
As a black metal album of worth, every performing element in Winterwaker is indispensable or at least a significant contribution to the whole. The latter can be rightly said of the vocals, which would be considered mixture when understood technically. The performer dominates this technical aspect so well that he can express himself with considerable liberty, painting the music in a wide range in the scale of grays; some of these colors are spread and granular, others are pointed and almost protuberant. The sounds it emits are not limited to the words or rhythmic emphases alone, but perform curls, as well as prefixes and suffixes to the words it is in charge of carrying. There are many similar vocal performances in metal, but none is quite the same as this one. What we see here is a consummated musician that knows himself and dominates his craft; the former being seldom encounter even among professionals.
Tempi stay rather constant within songs while comfortably varying throughout the album. A strong sense of personality is felt in Tarnkappe that make transitions within songs and from one to the other smooth not because there is no considerable change, but because their own language is so under control that the band boasts of the capability of presenting an enriched and eloquent performance under the semblance of one face. To say that this is monochromatic would be a blatant lie or sheer blindness. To associate it with an “old school” is ignorance, for it is a continuation down one of the evolution and very well alive paths of black metal that have come to us arising from the influence harsh romantics of Niden Div. 187 and Kvist. We see in bands such as Sammath, Kaeck, Gheestenland and Tarnkappe the more clear-minded version of it that is still deeply planted in the pummeling that represents the worship of the harsher aspects of nature and our place within it.