Wintercoast is the second effort by UK band Touchstone. Marketing themselves as prog rock with real bite, there are times where Touchstone comes across as also being very much a metal band. On Wintercoast the likes of the title track and Zinomorph are strong showcases of just how much Touchstone are a metal act. The album is quite varied, other songs showcase their prog side and indeed why they are often categorised, indeed more often as, a progressive rock band.
An interesting but brief acoustic passage begins this album before a voice over from actor Jeremy Irons comes in, which takes us right into the title track Wintercoast. This is the longest track on the album and as stated above it is one of the heaviest. Though it has its lighter sections, this is one of the tracks which are going to appeal to a metal crowd. The dual male and female vocals set a high standard on this track for both of the vocalists which remains throughout the rest of the album. Though I confess to not knowing their first effort Discordant Dreams anywhere near as well as I do Wintercoast 9at the time of writing at least), having heard all of that album at least once I was of the opinion that the female vocalist was the superior of the male, and while it is the idea that she is the front of the band, I do feel that the male vocalist has come on well between albums, making them much more evenly matched. It’s a winning formula. This song also features some strong guitar. Later track Joker in the Pack is another, albeit much shorter track which features some of the same heaviness as Wintercoast, though the acoustic verses and chorus are something worth writing home about. It’s a very addictive and progressive setup. It gets heavier again about halfway through with a chugging riff that really showcases their metal side.
Following on is Strange Days, one of the tracks the band used to promote the album. It is one of the more commercial tracks that Wintercoast offers, featuring some classic rock style riffs on the guitars and hooks in the chorus. At four minutes seven seconds its one of the shorter songs the album offers, discounting the intro and outro track, of which I might that, although I normally bash the use of intro and/or outro tracks, this is one instance where they actually seem to work. Makes a nice refreshing change to say the least.
Another lengthy track follows, Voices. I really like the vocals from Kim on this track, they’re really fitting with some light melodic music backing her. It’s quite haunting in these places. Some distorted guitars are present on the track but are used less. It’s much the ballad type without being completely a ballad. There’s only female vocals in this track, which is the same setup as what I would consider the album’s true ballad, Solace. Despite their lightness, it is very difficult to accuse Touchstone have being overly pop or commercial. Line in the sand is another female vocal only track.
Zionmorph is another track with really heavy riffs. It’s one of my favourites and also is the other track next to Strange Days that the band use to promote the album. If you have a Last.fm account you can download a radio edit version for free from there. Main riff is really good in this one and some more good dual vocals from Kim and Rob.
Nearer the end of the album is the two part song The Witness. If joined into one track instead of two it would be the longest on the album, with a total time of twelve and a half minutes. As is its one four a bit job and then one eight and a bit job. The two showcase Touchstone’s prog side very well, with some dark, almost doomy music to begin part one. Part one fades into part two effortlessly. Unusually led by Rob’s vocals, part two features both some very metal style guitar and proggy synth. I suppose this setup here begs the question - Should they have been one track? The answer is probably, although they managed the split rather well considering. To end the album is another Jeremy Irons voiceover, but for some reason as an unlisted track.
Overall I have really enjoyed this album and it is one of the finest releases from 2009 that I have heard. I think it will appeal to fans of both the progressive rock and metal sides of their music. This is absolutely essential listening.
(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)