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Melancholy City Lights - 90%

TheStormIRide, December 14th, 2019

Frozen Ocean’s sole member, Vaarwel, has typical been a busy musician. Between the impressive eleven full length albums alongside numerous splits and EPs, he still finds time to perform in a whole bunch of other bands with impressive catalogs of their own (Goatpsalm and Smothered Bowels, for instance). Between the band’s initial formation in 2005 and 2016, Frozen Ocean continuously unleashed new music in varying styles: ambient, drone, electronic, black metal, etc. Those efforts eventually slowed down, and we were greeted with silence for months, until the end of 2019, when, seemingly out of nowhere, Frozen Ocean announced a new split with a new band called Heather Grave. As it turns out, Heather Grave is another notch in Vaarwel’s repertoire, this being a melodic doom metal project rounded out with Horth from Sickrites and Goatpsalm. Beyond Anemonautics sees each project delivering two tracks, all ranging between the seven and nine minute mark.

Heather Grave starts off the album with two tracks of highly melodic, yet surprisingly heavy and dense doom metal. Melancholic strings back a flowing stream of minor key melodies, while militant drum programming marches forward as thundering, rhythmic guitars crunch underfoot and deep, gravel-laden bellows growl out an unnerving cadence. There’s a really nice juxtaposition between the melodic keyboards and strings (and occasional whispered vocal lines) and the heavy-handed percussion and guitar riffs, offering something that is both melancholic and introspective, while bearing a certain gravitas of immediacy via the distorted riffing. It’s almost like walking through a wooded cemetery in the middle of a city, that has somehow been forgotten by time: a casual glance makes you feel alone, but looking above the treetops you can’t miss the skyscrapers and city lights glaring back. Heather Grave’s music is intimate and melancholic, yet it refuses to become lost in its own whimsical trappings, having enough weight to carry the gloom securely on its shoulders.

Frozen Ocean’s two tracks show that the brief hiatus between releases was not time wasted, as these show Vaarwel in fine form. Yet again changing gears from what’s been delivered before, both tracks deliver melancholic atmospheric black metal, with tinges of doom and post-metal; clearly sounding like Frozen Ocean while diving headfirst into new territory. The songs play through like starry, windswept soundscapes: stark, repetitive riffing lays a foundation, while lofty lead guitar melodies reach forward. Both tracks offer harmonized melodies, utilizing sweeping keys, underlying tremolo picking, and some rather striking mandolin and cigar box guitar movements, adding an earthy feel to the starry melancholy and somber movements. Vaarwel’s songwriting has steadily improved over the years, from emulating black metal’s greats to forging a sound that is distinctly Frozen Ocean, despite no releases sounding quite the same.

Beyond Anemonautics shows two projects delivering gloominess in their own way: Heather Grave with melodic, ethereal doom metal and Frozen Ocean with atmospheric/post-black metal. It’s a fitting pairing, with both bands sounding tailor-made for each other. It’s always nice to see such a productive mind return to the scene, and it’s even more exciting when a new project comes with it. This is certainly one of the most immersive and moving splits of the year, and one that shouldn’t be missed.