In a way similar to the jump between Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning, Thorr-Axe sounds much more mature on this album in comparison to its predecessor. The overall sound is still rooted in sludgy High on Fire worship but the guitar tone is stronger and the Eyehategod recalling shrieks have more power this time around. Even the lyrics have a clearer sense of purpose than before; they still consist of North mythology but the definitive storyline at work does make it more intriguing.
Gates of Winter also sets itself apart by its more prominent black metal influence though it isn't used in the way one would really think with that description. You'll find a lot of tremolo picking and harsher vocals but the inspiration is based more on the blackgaze and post metal variants than any serious brutality. This results in a more dynamic and melancholic sound comparable to a doomier Chrome Waves. This is most evident on the closing "Intermission" and "Awakening" as the former consists of a spoken word dirge while the latter packs in a lot of building riffs and emotions over its fourteen minute duration.
I may personally consider Walls of Spears and Gates of Winter to be about equally matched in quality, but Thorr-Axe's sophomore effort is the one that is sure to leave the deeper impression. You won't find a song as catchy as "The Island" or "Dragon King," but you will find an album with more ambitious compositions, a more unique incorporation of influences, and a more seasoned group of musicians. And since there are weirdos out there who prefer Master of Puppets over Ride The Lightning, that can only mean the band has something even greater in store for the future...
"Open The Gates"
"The Foraging Ritual"
"Gates of Winter"