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Frost was a band that somewhat underwhelmed me with their first demo, and Pagan Hammer is one of my favorite underground artists these days, so the idea of a split between them was an interesting prospect. I'm happy to say that Frost's music has gotten several orders of magnitude better since the 'Northern Supremacy' demo of last year, with a slightly altered style that seems to be much more carefully written and convincingly played that the rather straightforward droning black metal of the first release. Pagan Hammer's side, while perhaps not quite as easy to appreciate as his previous two demos, is still very strong, and in fact requires a few listens to fully appreciate, incorporating elements not seen on previous releases, making these three songs, though not as instantly classic as the the first volleys from the artist, immense in their own right.
Starting off the split is three tracks from Canada's Frost. The first release from this one-man project was a demo quite like Bloodaxe, but with a smoother, seemingly Pagan Hammer-inspired sonic presence. It was decent enough, but lacked memorability in the long run due to overly similar songs and occasionally stale riffing. The content here is rather different, though: almost exclusively midpaced and plodding, it has more in common with later Bathory than it does with Bloodaxe, and seem to be geared more towards a folk/pagan sound that droning black metal. Rolling viking rhythms take precedent over blasting, and the reverb-drenched rasping vocals are balanced out by periodic cleans, which, while somewhat awkward, are still employed surprisingly effectively. Clean passages are used extensively in the first two tracks (keys in the first, clean guitar in the second) as intros, outros, or interludes, and do well to break up the very repetitive music that Frost plays. It is a solid repetition with uniformly good content this time around, though, and I can honestly say that a track like 'Werwolf' is a truly excellent one that I can listen to repeatedly without getting bored. There's a surprising subtlety to these compositions; the gentle keyboard backing throughout 'Werwolf', the deftly programmed drums on 'Flesh & Blood', and other such instances.
The surprise comes in the form of final track 'Sejdr', a keyboard-only ambient track in the vein of Neptune Towers or a similar artist. It's not bad; rather cheesy, but such things are tolerable in moderation, and the melodies aren't bad. Overall, Frost's side is quite a good one and a major step up from the previous demo. While the future of the endeavor seemed questionable at first, I can say with confidence that Frost has blossomed into something worthwhile, and I'll be awaiting the project's next release.
Pagan Hammer's side is also a departure, though of a different sort. Opening with the clearly Drudkh-inspired 'Wood' (though it's infinitely better than any of the Burzum-worshiping pabulum that Drudkh repeatedly churns out), the rhythms are again more rolling and less straightforward than usual, along with a strobe effect employed on the whole of the music, giving the texture of the guitars an even more hypnotic effect than usual. Also atypical is the incorporation of a buried acoustic guitar near the track's end, before Pagan Hammer's side of the split abruptly shifts gears to the more conventional 'My Grave In The Mountains'. This track sounds more like something off the 'Foresight' demo, with the familiar alternation of skank beats and rolling triplets, along with the uplifting, majestic riffing that Pagan Hammer is now legendary for. Closer 'Heathen Lands' surprisingly opens with a couple minutes of murky ambiance before bursting into Pagan Hammer's fastest and rawest music to date, composed of nearly all blasting and tremolo riffing, including some of the project's most frozen and ripping riffs yet.
The production on Pagan Hammer's side is rawer than on the previous two, with a more abrasive and frosty guitar tone and much more buried drums and vocals, but it seems to generally fit the aim of this release. Side 'Death' shows off a rawer and more traditionally black metal side of Pagan Hammer, and does so admirably. While it's not precisely the same music as found on the previous demos, it is still genuinely masterful material from one of USBM's greatest artists today.
This is a split most certainly worth the time of any modern black metal fan. Frost has been shown in its new and improved form to be a mighty force of melodic black metal, and Pagan Hammer continues his reign as USBM's current champion. There's only a hundred copies of this tape floating around, so get it while you can: both sides bring something new and worthwhile to the musical table and you should make an effort to hear it.