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Comfort in Misery - 85%

TowardsMorthond, July 3rd, 2012

For the first time in their career, Sentenced produce an album that is not strikingly different in sound or approach from its predecessor, as Frozen follows the traditional melodic heavy metal style of Down, with the significant distinctions being stronger individuality of songs, more varied application of expressive tone and atmospheric layering, and a slightly more expansive structural format. Listening to Frozen, one gets the sense that Sentenced have identified a comfort zone in this style of straightforward, melodic songwriting. These rock-oriented songs are more assertive and dynamic than the songs on Down. The album sounds and feels more alive and inspired, even though the content is perhaps their most directly bleak and dejected yet.

"I regret every single day I've ever lived in my life
I gave all I had in me...so it's time to say goodbye"

The crystalline production emphasizes their precise and elegant guitar melodies over the bass-oriented, bottom-end power of Down that gave the drums a louder presence in the mix. As these songs are fueled by the band’s well-crafted and catchy guitar and vocal melodies, this sound provides a better representation of their style. Where the enduring impact of Down was ultimately limited by the uniform nature of its songs and the stagnant production, Frozen is a more dynamic work, featuring more variation in tempo, tone, and atmosphere, making it easier to differentiate between individual tracks. Ville Laihiala's singing benefits from a more confident delivery, as he takes more chances in these songs and has a firmer understanding of his strengths and weaknesses as a vocalist. He's sometimes not as convincing when using a deep, gothic-rock singing style, but when he applies his more standard approach, an effective balance of grit and melody, he shines in the context of these songs. Guitarists Mikka Tenkula and Sami Lopakka deliver a sensational performance on this disc, offering stellar riffs and harmonies that both burn and freeze, and Tenkula's lead work continues to serve as this band's most impressive element, especially in his soulful, bluesy playing in "Mourn" and "The Rain Comes Falling Down". Indeed, the blasting anthem "The Suicider", streamlined melodic love-meets-death pop-metal of "Drown Together", the vague re-visitation of AMOK-styled complexity in the instrumental "Burn" and the midnight rocking suicide celebration of "Let Go (The Last Chapter)" feature some of this underrated guitar tandem's most impressive work.

Lyrically, the band continues with the suicidal and morose themes of Down, only this time the words are submerged deeper into the abyss of misery and despair. "Dead Leaves" and "The Rain Comes Falling Down" both act as similarly grey‑spirited soundtracks to such dismal themes, but most of these songs are driven by almost elating, enraptured melodies that create a powerful union of conflicting elements that produce splendid, deceptively harmonic results. Some of these songs express thoughts on agony and death with morbid joy, as if rejoicing in anticipation of the end. No longer "The Northernmost Killers", Sentenced now become "serial self‑killers" urging the end of life with a bitter smile. The touching instrumental "Mourn", highlighted by some of Tenkula's most emotional playing, is perhaps the band's most cohesive representation of sadness in both theme and sound, concluding the album on a funereal note.

"A steady hand with this sharpened cold steel
will help me wipe away this pain that I feel."

Frozen stands as Sentenced's most consistent, engaging, and strongest effort in the Ville Laihiala-era. The band's approach has changed dramatically from their early days, but in the context of this conventional style, they peak with Frozen. Excellent songwriting, an enveloping despair-ridden atmosphere and inspired instrumental performances elevate this album to a high level that future albums would fail to match. This is a fine collection of songs skillfully managing to avoid the usual obstacles befalling most underground metal bands who transition to more conventional heavy metal songwriting.