During the formative years that shaped my current musical interests, I found myself drawn to post-punk and emo, as well as emo’s even more cacophonously distraught half-brother, screamo. Once post-rock was introduced into the mix it became clear exactly what it was I had always been after: melancholic rage. In other words, I have a need to rock, but I want to run the gamut from being deeply, emotionally moved to being ripped apart from the inside out in the process. This tendency can be found across the board in songs that I count amongst my favorites: Smashing Pumpkins’ “Thru the Eyes of Ruby,” “Five, Eight and Ten” by Mineral, Circle Takes the Square’s “A Non-Objective Portrait of Karma,” the title track to Caspian’s “Dust and Disquiet,” and so on. That same theme has always been prevalent, and as a result, it has always made sense that these genres I’ve been drawn to should at some point blend themselves for maximum impact. They have done so in some respects. Envy has been doing it from a screamo platform for years, as has Pianos Become the Teeth during a shorter timeframe. Bands like Moving Mountains, Deer Leap and Foxing have infused post-rock stylings into a predominantly emo-driven backdrop. However, on the post-rock side of the equation, the willingness to embrace aspects of these other genres has been slower to form. Maybe it’s because post-rock has been more recently entrenched in its own formative process. Its relative “newness” may have provided inspiration enough for musicians seeking to explore its sprawling landscapes, so that could explain less of a willingness to modify the template. However, as we are at a point now where one can reasonably refer to bands like Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, Sigur Ros, and even Caspian and This Will Destroy You as “forefathers,” the time has come for certain artists to push and expand our expectations.
RELEASE DATE: 09 September 2015 LABEL: Voice Of The Unheard Records
For this reason, I view Winter Dust as a band that could end up being very important for post-rock during its own post-formative years. It is appropriate then that their acclaimed 2015 EP “Thresholds” is titled as such. There was a time when the threshold at which post-rock fans would be moved was in a different place. But I think it is both understandable and natural that we have become restless in a way. The legacy acts have set the standards, and those thresholds have re-defined themselves. It isn’t that the classics have lost any of their weighty impact, but for newer bands to seek only to grasp at these well-tread standards may not be enough to move the needle anymore.
Enter Winter Dust. Formed in Padova, Italy in 2009, the quintet (a staggering 4 out of 5 of whom are named Marco) had released an EP and a full-length prior to “Thresholds,” but this most recent effort is the one that proves to be their most affecting. “Thresholds” is, first and foremost, a post-rock album. Only two of its four tracks feature vocals, and but a mere 68 total seconds worth of them at that, but they are the hook that allows Winter Dust to rise above many of their contemporaries. When guitarist/vocalist Marco Vezzaro’s tortured screams tear into the mix at the three-minute mark of the opener “There,” the band is already in the midst of establishing an effectively dramatic soundscape, and this additional element both distinguishes them as something different than we are accustomed to, and adds to the already-potent emotional impact. As someone who has a long history with screamo, I can say that this is the kind of moment that most bands in that realm only dream of composing. However, rather than becoming the focus, the vocals serve more as a vehicle to propel the musical narrative forward. Maybe the best way that I can describe this is to say that it reminds me of what Envy might sound like if they were a post-rock band with screamo elements, rather than the other way around.
On “Acceptance,” the vocals reveal themselves earlier, lending an edge that pays off later when the track reaches a quieter moment prior to the final climactic build. Though brief, this vocal passage establishes a resonance that carries through until the end, creating a fuller experience for the listener. I can’t say that I wouldn’t be intrigued by the idea of working another verse into their song structuring on future releases, but as they are, “There” and “Acceptance” are amongst the most moving songs I have heard recently, regardless of whether you are looking through the lens of post-rock, or that of screamo.
The final track, “Elsewhere,” is the one that initially drew me to Winter Dust, before I realized the band had vocals integrated into their sound. As a rule, I am not a fan of post-rock driven by piano or strings, but here both are used as tasteful accents to build dramatic tension, which ultimately explodes into a guitar-drenched crescendo. The song is essentially a microcosm of what to expect from the entirety of “Thresholds,” which is on the whole a well-constructed, emotionally exhausting, richly rewarding package with a scope that exceeds its relatively short 28-minute running time.
Winter Dust stand out as a band that could potentially be very important in terms of the musical landscape in 2016 and going forward. They have the dramatic appeal for fans of more traditional post-rock, and the heaviness necessary to draw from the post-metal crowd. Most importantly, you can take this to your emo, post-punk, and screamo friends who maybe don’t have a familiarity with post-rock, play them a song like “There,” and create one of those “lightbulb” moments where everything comes together all at once. Winter Dust is one of those bands that has the ability to translate wider than the usual post-rock artists would, and in that fact there is a value that should not be underestimated.