At the risk of making some of the absolute most obvious wordplay imaginable, it’s only fair to say that, within death metal, Frozen Soul are pretty hot right now. Their name has been knocking about for a few years now, but Glacial Domination seems to be the one that’s really boding well, in no small part due to Trivium’s Matt Heafy in their corner to lend his production talents. In fact, they’ve established quite a varied portfolio of names to contribute to this album—Heafy; Dying Fetus’ John Gallagher; GosT to lend a hand on a couple of songs; it’s not a bad lineup. And when you pool all of that together, what you get is…a pretty decent death metal album, without much at all in the way of surprises.
It’s not like that’s a critical knock against Frozen Soul though, especially in a genre like death metal that’s one of the easiest in which to eschew novelty and still thrive. That’s kind of the impression that Glacial Domination gives, as Frozen Soul lock into notably old-school impulses with fair degrees of acumen. Arsenal Of War and Death And Glory have all the crashing, smashing speed and thunderous; Abominable and Atomic Winter dredge up some fatter chugs and grooves; and Assimilator falls somewhere in between, knowing when to plug some guitar pyrotechnics to lift it up more. So far, so death metal then, and so deep are Frozen Soul into the genre pool that they pretty much hit a win by default.
It’d be nice if they went a bit further with that, though. As it stands, they’re holding firm among death metal territory, but there’s nothing really on display to transcend that like what, say, Venom Prison had when they broke. It’s good, but very expected throughout; even when GosT shows up on the eponymous Frozen Soul and Assimilator, there’s less of a synthwave presence in either of them than the throwaway interlude Annihilation earlier on. And while there’s a good ear for musicality, especially from Samantha Mobley’s bass, Chad Green doesn’t particularly exude power as a vocalist. Honestly, he feels mixed a bit flatly at times, at odds with the grandeur and opulence that comes with the best death metal, and that Frozen Soul themselves are clearly looking to instill. Epic battles and violence among the frigid wilderness are, again, far from new themes in this sort of metal, but Frozen Soul are clearly aware of the worth of locking firmly into them.
That does enough to keep them moving forward, for now anyway. Frozen Soul feel like the epitome of a band who’ll need to develop outside of their box sooner rather than later, though that’s always hard to pinpoint with death metal at the best of times. There’s a very real chance that they could take off as it is, and while Glacial Domination doesn’t quite feel like the best-equipped album to shoulder that, it wouldn’t be objectionable either. That’s really where Frozen Soul’s greatest strength seems to be—an ability to leverage the inherent strengths in their genre, and just do them well. Though, maybe ease back on the ice-themed song titles next time; a death metal song called Best Served Cold is already pushing it. • LN
For fans of: Obituary, Creeping Death, Undeath
‘Glacial Decimation’ by Frozen Soul is released on 19th May on Century Media Records.
Esben And The Witch
Incredibly ambient and ethereal with minimal instrumentation, Hold Sacred delivers a highly immersive and haunting listening experience. The new record sees the trio continuing to push themselves and their sound. Moving away from previous albums’ rock-focused song writing styles, Hold Sacred ventures into uncharted territories redefining which instruments are used and how to manifest bewitching music.
Hold Sacred is dark and melancholic with powerful imagery that is both conveyed through the music and the lyrics. The album’s opener The Well brings an eerie atmosphere amid a surrounding darkness. The echoing vocals and instrumentation present this image of the well and a desperation to escape. The lyric “I can climb out if I dig my fingers in” creates a striking image that feels both chilling and yet empowering. In Ecstasy deviates from the mood of the opener through its more rhythmic character. Stunning vocal harmonies and shimmering guitars continue Esben And The Witch’s solemn tone. True Mirror opens with a pacing beat, almost reminiscent of a heartbeat, rushing along. The surrounding instrumentation is significantly calmer and the two make for an intriguing contrast. On the surface all appears serene and yet, an anxiety is present throughout beneath all the musical and vocal layers.
Enveloping with its captivating aura, A Kaleidoscope remains fairly steady dynamically throughout, but that enhances its charm. Esben And The Witch have devised a means of drawing the listener in and keeping them fully immersed among the elements. Heathen is intriguingly written in a call-and-response style, and very simplistic musically to highlight this core aspect. The distinctive nature of this song doesn’t become lost in multiple layers or flowery embellishments. A pulsing beat forms a gentle constant in Petals Of Ash. The end of world is taking place around the narrator, and they choose to “take in the view” with the one they love. It’s about finding a light in the darkest of times.
Hold Sacred is a delightfully intriguing album. Each part is given plenty of space and allowed to linger. Echoes ring out highlighting a sense of vastness that is both freeing and disconcerting. Comprised only of guitars, keys and vocals, Hold Sacred carries through a softness that entwines with both the dark and the light. Esben And The Witch have crafted a stunning, beautifully emotive album in Hold Sacred. • HR
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, Zola Jesus
‘Hold Sacred’ by Esben And The Witch is out now on Nostromo Records.
Australian punk can often seem a bit limited, can’t it? When it seems to be exclusively The Chats and Chats-alikes that float to the top, it gives off the impression of a fairly homogenised scene, and often unfairly so. Laws of averages would dictate that there’s bound to be a greater spread than what gets the most pushed, and Bad//Dreems come along to heavily corroborate that. At a glance they give off similar vibes in a rough sound and Ben Marwe’s thick Aussie brogue, but on just HOO HA! alone, they’re taking a look at the fenced-in pen they’ll likely be deposited in by default, and warping it to not-insignificant degrees.
By virtue of variety, Bad//Dreems already work to be a lot more interesting than their contemporaries. Rooted in scraggly post-punk, they’ll branch off to incorporate garage-punk and classic rock, infused with synth whirrs or, on New Breeze, trickles of woodwind to appoint a clearer ‘anything goes’ attitude. It’s all deeply accessible though, never being too far from a sneering punk hook that’s so well-realised on a song like Mansfield 6.0 or Southern Heat. The occasional bout of production stiffness aside—Jack especially suffers from some old-timey rock plod—HOO HA! puts in a surprisingly succinct amount of work to redraw some of the boundaries that tends to hold Aussie punk hostage. There’s never too much predictability at play, nor do Bad//Dreems ever seem unwilling to tiptoe over to something new and just give it a go.
Note the use of the word ‘tiptoe’ there, as there’s definitely a sense of outward movement to HOO HA! that’s not going at a barrelling pace. Compared to contemporaries who’ll put forward rampant, beaten-out hedonism as a primary character trait, Bad//Dreems are a bit more canny, and thus more interesting overall. Lyrically they feel way smarter, not just affixing themes of suburban placelessness and ubiquitous modern terror with more distinct turns of phrase, but dialling into a uniquely Australian mindset for it. Others do the same, but a song like Jack—despairing at the lack of Australian history being taught in the country’s schools—definitely feels like the next rung up. It’s the added flavour text in Bad//Dreems’ repertoire that accounts for a lot, bolstered by Marwe as a more literate frontman that does HOO HA! a lot of justice in bringing out its best qualities.
At the same time, it probably wouldn’t be wise for too many other bands to follow Bad//Dreems’ cues. Having them as their own entity within that specific punk scene is where the most elevation comes from, at least where musicality is concerned. But that’s also far from a bad thing, as HOO HA! really does put the work in to feel more distinct. The breadth is wider and the reach further, without pushing aside too much of the energy and scrappiness that one would expect. And in that kind of difference-splitting, Bad//Dreems end up as a notably rejuvenated force who clearly still have a lot to offer. Just try and say that about so many others around them. • LN
For fans of: Polish Club, DZ Deathrays, Hockey Dad
‘HOO HA!’ by Bad//Dreems is released on 19th May on Farmer & The Owl / BMG.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)