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Erudite black metal / neo-folk crossover - 83%

drengskap, October 10th, 2009

Frozen Grave is the third in the series of limited-edition CD-Rs released in 2009 by the resurrected Hail, following PermaFrost. Hail’s line-up for Frozen Grave consisted of Set Sothis Nox La and Carl Annala.

The album contains six tracks, totalling 50 minutes. The first and fourth tracks, ‘The Autopsy I’ and ‘The Autopsy II’, are inspired by ‘The Autopsy’, a grisly short story by the German Expressionist writer Georg Heym (1887-1912), which is printed in full in the album booklet, along with a short biography of Heym. Georg Heym is one of Set Sothis’ key literary influences – issue 1 of the zine Amarantos, which he edited, also contains an article on Heym and a selections of translations of his work. The booklet of Frozen Grave explains that:

The short story entitled ‘The Autopsy’ was chosen from the canon of Georg Heym’s work because of its startling dichotomy of retched [sic] macabre detail and romantic longing; the twin drives fueling modern Black Metal.

Musically speaking, both parts of ‘The Autopsy’ are lengthy (10 and 14 minutes respectively), largely instrumental, black metal pieces. After a short ambient drone intro, Part I develops into a mid-paced, melodic guitar riff, feeling quite similar to the classic old-school Norwegian black metal of Burzum or Mayhem, with quiet classical guitar interludes. The production is well-defined, with the drums clearly audible, though there doesn’t seem to be any bass work beneath the multi-layered guitars. The track builds up a hypnotic power through the relentless repetition of its cascading riff. Part II follows a similar path, though there are some growled vocals buried deep in the mix here, as well as military snare-drum rolls, acoustic guitar played over gentle chanting and soft spoken vocals, and (I think) some bright, rippling mandolin, giving Part II a tranquil, folk feel, in contrast to the black metal Sturm und Drang of Part I. ‘The Autopsy II’ ends with a numinous cloud of warm, fuzzy riffs dissolving into the sound of crackling flames.

Elsewhere on the album, ‘Black Plague’ is a short neo-folk song, with more mandolin, flute, violin, sampled German dialogue and nautical sound effects. The mysteriously-entitled ‘Evit’ (I think this is right, although the font used is a bit cryptic) is a brooding industrial soundscape, with reverbed fragments of sampled vocals (‘Satanist!’ ‘She must vanish!’ ‘Give me power!’ ‘She must die!’) , penetrating squeals of feedback and metal chimes over a heavy, monotonous beat and dense layers of dark ambient buzz and drone, something like Deutsch Nepal, Terroritmo or C.O.T.A. Frozen Grave’s closing track, ‘Lonesome’, is also drone-based, with a distant, wailing flute and zinging metallic tones struck from singing bowls creating a desolate, uncanny atmosphere.

‘The Cold Grain’ reworks a track first released on the Hail album Seeds. This version doesn’t sound markedly different to the earlier version, with both versions featuring strummed acoustic guitar, shamanic throat singing, though this version has some shivering, attentuated violin notes that I don’t remember from before. The title ‘The Cold Grain’ is a reference to Hagalaz, the Hail rune from which the band takes its name – this subject is discussed in more detail in my earlier review of Seeds.

Overall, Frozen Grave is a representative piece of work from Hail, with various tracks emphasising several different facets of the band’s music, ranging from savage yet passionate black metal through gentler ethnic and folk music influences to industrial and dark ambient sounds. Standout tracks included both parts of ‘The Autopsy’ and ‘Evit’. PermaFrost is a black CD-R in a folded card sleeve with a small loose-leaf booklet, and it’s a tiny limited edition of 30 copies.

This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
www.judaskissmagazine.co.uk