It's been four years since Sydney metallers Bane of Isildur put forth any new material (well, two if you count the Stormlords demo, but those songs are on the album anyway!). And the time they've taken shows: what we're presented with is basically a more refined, polished and diverse variation of the eponymous EP. This is a good thing; Bane of Isildur was a promising beginning for the band, and Black Wings has come to deliver on that promise.
The main guitar combination utilized here is much the same as on the debut - a combination of heavy, distorted guitars providing the backbone of the songs and a cleaner, higher-pitched guitar floating on top, adding a layer of melody to the music. The use of this particular guitar set does wonders for the atmosphere of each song - while the heavier riffs give the musical proceedings a heaping of head-banging thrashiness, the melodic clean guitar lines cut in to aid the band in conveying their desired imagery. Take the opener, Chosen Path: the song opens with a simple, quasi-martial line, which sets the tone for the rest of the song, giving the listener a glimpse into the Nordic wartime vibe that BoI does bloody well. One notable aspect of the whole album is that the music - particularly the drums and guitars, the foundation of metal - is played a lot more tightly, more cohesively, than on the debut. The guitars follow the drums perfectly and vice versa. For instance, on the song Last Alliance, the opening riff is solidly underpinned by the bass drums, which is then built on strongly by cleaner melodic guitar noodling (good noodling!) and propulsive double-bass rolls.
The vocals employed here are well-suited to BoI's melodic style of death metal - the growls are harsh and throaty, ranging from occasional guttural grunts to higher, almost singing growls. But the best parts is that the vocals can actually be understood; as long as you focus on the music, you can make out what the lyrics are. The great bonus track, Hell's Bells is a fitting example: As you head-bang along to the catchy chorus, you can clearly hear the fun line, "You've got me ringin' Hell's Bells!". It's this touch that makes the atmosphere cultivated by BoI more accessible. When listening to The War of Gods and Men, there was a frantic, battle-like energy to the song; likewise, the lamentful clean guitars floating through Of Crimson and Cold Steel, combined with the expressive (by death metal standards) vocals helped to paint a picture of the pains and triumphs of the battlefield.
On the whole, Bane of Isildur have stuck to their guns over the four years between offerings, and they've put in the time and effort required, leaving us with a more refined, solid slab of Nordic death metal glory. Definitely a band to keep an eye on in the Aussie metal world.