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Let's play a game of black metal mad-libs. Quickly try to think of a few words you would associate with black metal- you get bonus points if they're clichés. If you said 'winter', 'frost', 'darkness', 'frozen', 'kvlt', 'lore' or some variety of faux-Satanism or pagan banter, you win the game. When the expressly counter-cultural, oppositional style of black metal has been around for decades and long since been institutionalized (as evidenced by the mainstream media's embrace of the latest Deafheaven record last year) it's difficult not to be cynical about the genre's longstanding trademarks. From a distance, Frostwork's Lore of Winter - Ealdspell would seem to fulfill all-too many of these so-called clichés. The grayscaled cover is all things snowy and forested. The song titles are filled with black metal buzzwords, not least of all being 'winter'. The album seems catered specifically in tribute to the canon of atmospheric black metal.
Upon closer inspection, it's mostly revealed that the look from a distance was spot-on correct. I'm not saying that Lore of Winter - Ealdspell should be dismissed simply because it depends upon legacy over innovation. Given the flimsy state of black metal these days, I'd say we've never needed a hint of tradition more than now. Unfortunately, Frostwork mastermind Dagon hasn't offered enough meat on the bones of this album. The resulting impression is one of relative shallowness and painful deja-vu, the likes of which has befallen many a 'modern' black metal album before it. Lore of Winter is a problematic debut, but Dagon's hidden talents with acoustic folk and ambient music (the likes of which are scattered throughout the music) fare far better than his aspirations with black metal.
For a black metal album, Lore of Winter is suspiciously absent of actual black metal. Ambiance is Dagon's focus regardless of genre, drifting between dark folk, winter-themed foley recordings and circumstantial dives into black metal. While ambiance and acoustics tend to feel like tertiary 'intro' filler in the atmospheric black metal context, the opposite actually rings true here. Whereas Frostwork's tremolo picking-dependent attempt at black metal feels weak and shallow, Dagon's work with ambient atmosphere is fairly impressive. "The Winter Raven" is a great demonstration of this strength, conjuring a true impression of wintry coldness through basic acoustic plucking, effectively whispered rasping (redolent of Agalloch's John Haughm) and deep choral layers seemingly ripped from the Bathory handbook. Throughout all of this, there is a sound recording of boots treading through a thick blanket of snow. It's far from a novelty in black metal to be certain, but it's quite effective in evoking the desired atmosphere.
Speaking in broader terms, Lore of Winter feels undercooked, both in terms of its writing and execution. Although "The Winter Raven" and the atmospherically Medieval "Cast From His Wings" are great pieces of acoustic dark folk, more often than not Frostwork feels off the ball. Given that most listeners are going to be approaching "Lore of Winter" with some expectation of black metal, it's likely most will be disappointed; Frostwork's riffs and harmonies are uninventive, and the drum machine is dreadfully uneven. Dagon's howls fare significantly better on "Lore of Winter"; there's plenty of resonance in his screams, and they're understated enough so as not to compromise the 'spell' black metal of this sort tries to put the listener under. True to the genre's conventions, Frostwork is rooted in lo-fi aesthetic; fans of the 'classic' Second Wave canon will find themselves right at home with the foundations of Frostwork's sound.
The songwriting is fairly nondescript; there is always a focus on one or two primary ideas, but the way Dagon has sequenced them does nothing to contribute to the experience as a larger whole. This minimalism has worked well for the acoustic tracks, but Frostwork's black metal side remains drearily uninteresting. The inclusion of a handful of purely ambient tracks nicely bolsters the atmospheric folk end of Frostwork, but I cannot shake the feeling that Lore of Winter - Ealdspell is really missing something. There isn't the catharsis or satisfaction I'd ultimately look for in an atmosphere-based album. Dagon's use of acoustic guitars is promisingly haunting, but it feels like a lot of work is going to be needed before Frostwork can hope to compete with the atmosphere of the bands that have so clearly influenced it.
Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical.
Ever since Immortal’s first few albums, winter has been somewhat of a staple theme for black metal bands. Some choose to capture the sadness and melancholy winter evokes, some concentrate more on its ferocity and strength, and yet others attempt both. Frostwork’s Lore of Winter – Ealdspell falls most solidly into the second group with its mixture of ominous ambience and harsh sections of black metal.
On its face, Lore of Winter – Ealdspell is somewhat unimpressive from a purely instrumental/vocal standpoint. The guitar work isn’t particularly skillful or adventurous, and each of the album’s repetitive tremolo riffs are forgotten as soon as they end. The drums plod away at a slow pace and are generally relegated to the background, only occasionally speeding up to something more than a crawl. The bass, while more noticeable than in most black metal albums, never really does anything exciting. In fact, the only part of the music that is above average is the vocals, which are usually the typical black metal shrieks but performed convincingly enough to satisfy. Throw in a boatload of ambience, some clean vocals, two spoken passages, and an occasional acoustic part and you basically have Ealdspell.
However, we all know that music is more than the sum of its individual parts. The previously mentioned guitars are abrasive and cutting, reminiscent of an icy wind, and they combine with slow pace of the drums to bring to mind the image of a slow and unavoidable death brought on by the elements. These slabs of black metal are broken and separated by the sounds of frozen winds blowing, and these along with the sounds of someone trudging through the snow and some acoustic parts remind one of the capriciousness of winter. The vocals are lower in the mix and they echo like the voice of a man lost in the wilderness during a blizzard, crying futilely for help. The tracks blend together and give the album an undeniable cohesiveness.
But with so many different parts in an album, there are bound to be some misfires. Lyrically this album is somewhat disjointed, beginning with lyrics about a likely mythological white raven and ending with lyrics about perhaps a female werewolf. I’m not usually too fussy about lyrics since, let’s be honest, it’s nearly impossible to decipher what most vocals are about. However, due to two spoken tracks the jump from raven to she-wolf is jarring. Separating these two parts into two EPs instead of a single album would have been the better choice artistically. Another flaw is one I mentioned earlier; the somewhat average instrumental work. It is possible to create great atmosphere and immersion while still having interesting and memorable riffs, but sadly, Ealdspell falls short here. And while the tracks blending together creates the sense of a single piece of music instead of just a collection of songs, there’s nothing interesting enough here to listen to on its own. Either commit to listening to the whole 40 minutes or don’t even bother.
Still, for all its flaws, Lore of Winter is a fair release. The instrumentals combine with the ambient passages to create a compelling piece of black metal that manages to work far better than the sum of its part. If you are looking for a cold piece of ambient black metal, you could do far worse than Frostwork’s Lore of Winter – Ealdspell.
Originally written for vtmetalreviews.blogspot.com
Whilst most bands strive to capture the clichéd feelings of Winter's awe and beauty, Frostwork seems to be a band that attempts to do the opposite, capturing the raw brutality of winter's chill. Released in November 2012 through Wodfreca Records and limited to 100 hand-numbered copies, Lore of Winter-Ealdspell encapsulates everything that is often overlooked by other bands who draw influence from the season of winter.
Expertly mixed to combine haunting narration, distant screamed vocals, ambient sound clips and a guitar tone that compliments the scene of thick snowfall so well, this latest release from Dagon (also of Heathen Deity) is by far one of the most original black metal releases to come out of England recently. The clean vocals parts are also reminiscent of a sorrowful lament, with a slight feel of inspiration from the Canadian Sig:Ar:Tyr.
The artwork has been carefully chosen to compliment the concept of the album and wonderfully matches the thick blizzard of atmospheric magic. Tracks do not interfere with the ambient sound clips, and flow perfectly in and out of the spoken narration parts. These transitions blend seamlessly with no opus being put on hurrying the album along. The quiet, reflective opening and closing tracks work perfectly to begin and seal off the album in a way that leaves the listener truly satisfied.
Although it is difficult to identify any major downsides to this album, the only thing that I could possibly comment on is that the fantastic flow of the album sometimes works to its disadvantage. There is no strong sense of individual tracks and no memorable, and though I hate to use the term, 'exceptionally catchy' riffs or parts. Whilst this is obviously intentional, and something that I myself enjoy and am appreciative of, it may be something that would put off fans of other more conventional and orthodox black metal bands. I, however, thoroughly enjoy and would recommend to anyone who has an interest in black metal.