Winter Albums

I sometimes find myself craving music that puts me in a winter state of mind without any Christmas over- and undertones. After all, it does get tiring to listen to the same Christmas songs during November, January, February and parts of March. Therefore I have compiled a list of albums that have a winter atmosphere.

Bathory- Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987)

This was the album that got me into Black Metal, and it’s a very raw- sounding album, almost like it was recorded in a cave. There are other atmospheric touches on the album like the keyboards on “Woman of Dark Desires” (the lyrics deal with the so called “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory), and “Enter the Eternal Fire”. The cavern- like ambience as well as the fierce and harsh nature of the music and production makes this an excellent addition to any winter playlist!

EneferensIn the Hours Beneath (2017)

Right from the beginning, this promises to be a winter album from the cover art to the production.  In the Hours Beneath is an album that exudes winter. The production is incredibly open and airy. Basically, the album cover perfectly summarizes what the album sounds like.

“Morning” is an amazingly beautiful song that should be played at dawn when the sun rises over a frosty or snowy landscape. No exceptions. “Chrysanthemum” is a perfect foil to “Morning” as it features some incredibly evil riffs and demonic growls. “Ascension” caps off the album neatly as it features both tranquil beauty and crushing brutality.

Iron Maiden- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

By far my favourite Maiden-album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son stands as the pinnacle of their career in my eyes. It was their last (until 2000) to feature the classic lineup of Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson and Nicko McBrain. It was also their last album to be released in the 1980’s, a decade where they helped define the sound and meaning of Heavy Metal. With Seventh Son… they also, in my opinion, contributed to the genre now known as Progressive Metal.

The wintry landscape on the cover art helps sell the idea of this being a winter album. Also, when I compare the production on this album to previous Martin Birch-produced Maiden albums like Killers (1981), Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (1983) and Powerslave (1984), the sound on Seventh Son… is much more open and airy, which I think fits the visual aesthetic perfectly.

Somewhere In Time (1986) is different in that the production is more open yet doesn’t have the cold and airy ambience that Seventh Son… has.

All the songs have this open and airy sound, but it really comes through clearly on songs like “Infinite Dreams”, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, “The Prophecy” and “The Clairvoyant”.

Jan Johansson- Jazz på svenska (1964)

”Jazz meets Swedish folk melodies” is perhaps the best way to describe this album. The melancholy and reflective nature of folk music and Jazz makes this a perfect musical match.

Johansson plays in a very sparse and minimalistic way with a lot of space between his melodic phrases. Bassist Georg Riedel also plays in a restrained way, allowing Johansson’s piano notes to ring out.

Readers in Sweden are probably aware of this album and of Jan Johansson, but readers elsewhere may not have heard of him. If you like calm and instrumental Jazz with a twist of folk-inspired melodies, definitely give this album a listen. The most famous song on the album is “Visa från Utanmyra”.

Metallica- Ride the Lightning (1984)

Metallica’s second studio album is a massive improvement compared to their debut Kill ‘em All (1983).The sound quality is much better, the songs are more diverse and have a greater depth. This is the album that proved Metallica could do more than just play aggressive and fast- although they do play faster and even more aggressive on this album too! Look no further than “Fight Fire with Fire”, one of my favourite Metallica songs.

I find it hard to pinpoint exactly why this is a winter album for me, as the first word that comes to mind when asked to describe this album is “Apocalyptic”. Perhaps the production can be characterized as “cold” (although not in the same way as Bathory’s album).

Opeth- Watershed (2008)

Opeth’s 9th studio release is their last to date to feature Mikael Åkerfeldt’s signature growls. This is also arguably the apex of their Progressive Metal style.

New drummer and guitarist Martin Axenrot and Fredrik Åkesson prove to be worthy successors of Martin Lopez and Peter Lindgren respectively after Ghost Reveries (2005).

What sells this as a winter album for me are the Folk and orchestral touches blended with Opeth’s signature style of Progressive Death Metal. “Hessian Peel” captures all these facets, and therefore represents what Watershed is all about. This also happens to be one of my favourite Opeth songs.

The acoustic “Coil” with its orchestral touches is simply mesmerizing while the brutality of “Heir Apparent” with its acoustic breaks is incredible and unsettling in the best possible way.

The Mellotron is also present on many songs, adding a melancholic layer to the songs. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Burden”, a type of ballad with an amazing organ solo by Per Wiberg and a phenomenal dual- guitar outro by Åkerfeldt and Åkesson.

Rush- Hemispheres (1978)

Rush’s 6th studio release Hemispheres was their last album released in the 70’s. It is also arguably the pinnacle of their Progressive Rock sound. The album only features four songs, one of which is close to 10 minutes and the other just over 18 minutes. The 18- minute song “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemishpheres” is a direct continuation of the song “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage”, found on their previous album A Farewell to Kings (1977).

From the first chord of  “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemishpheres”, this album puts me in a winter mindset as once again, the production is open and airy (notice a pattern?) as well as clean in the same way as Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The keyboard interlude on “Circumstances” has a Christmas- like quality to it which makes the album feel even more suitable for winter time.

There is also something about Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing, specifically his choice of notes, that give me winter-vibes.

Toto- Isolation (1984)

Toto’s 5th album Isolation is often overlooked by casual listeners as it wasn’t as commercially successful as Toto (1978), Toto IV (1982) or The Seventh One (1988).

It is the only album to feature Fergie Fredriksen on vocals and the first to feature third Porcaro brother Mike on bass. On Isolation, David Paich continues to be the most prolific writer in the band as on previous releases. The songs do sound different from earlier Toto material as there is less of a Jazz and R&B influence on the album. The primary influence on Isolation is Hard Rock, which fits Fergie’s voice perfectly.

I would describe this album as a Hard Rock- influenced AOR record with hints of ballad, synth and funk. The production is also “colder” than Toto IV and previous Toto records.

In my opinion, the strongest songs on the album are “Carmen”, “Lion” and “Isolation”.

Ulver- Bergtatt- Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler (1995)

Bergtatt is one of my favourite Black Metal records despite being a very atypical Black Metal record; the bass is audible, there are plenty of moments with clean vocals, there is an overt undercurrent of Folk music permeating the entire album and the production is not “thin and cold” like most other early 90’s Black Metal albums. The production feels muffled yet full, like you’re hearing the music in a cave covered and lined with moss.

Another way this album stands out in relation to other Black Metal records of the time is that all lyrics are sung entirely in archaic Dano-Norwegian, which in itself is reason enough to listen to this album.

There are moments of pure ferociousness (such as the verses in “Braablick Blev Hun Vaer”) as well as tranquil and beautiful moments (such as “Een Stemme Locker” and the intro to “Soelen Gaaer Baag Aase Need”).

The Black Metal elements mixed with the Folk music elements make for a quintessentially wintry album.

As a side note, the outro to “I Troldskog Faren Vild” has the same chord sequence as the outro to “Burden” on Opeth’s Watershed.

Örnatorpet- Fjällets Gyllene Slott (2019)

The first question many of you may ask is: what on earth is Dungeon Synth? One answer would be that it’s the nerdiest genre you’ll ever hear about. Another more informing answer would be that it’s basically instrumental and ambient lo-fi music that draws a lot of inspiration from old school games like Dungeons & Dragons.

So what’s the point of listening to this genre if it’s mainly just instrumental, ambient, nerdy and relatively repetitive? I think it serves as the perfect background music when working, writing or indulging in creative projects.

Fjällets Gyllene Slott (Eng: The Golden Castle of the Mountain) immediately evokes a feeling of winter with its cover art by Swedish illustrator John Bauer (1882-1918). The music lives up to the expectations set by the cover, especially songs like “Midvintersagor”, with its crystal- clear keyboard sounds and open ambience.

Final thoughts

I hope this has inspired you to seek out your own winter albums to accompany these dark months.

Until next time, have a Happy New Year!

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