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Memo to Producer: You’re Effing Fired - 73%

lonerider, October 3rd, 2017
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Century Media Records

Sentenced’s 1998 release Frozen is a pretty severe case of “what might have been”-itis. Coming on the heels of the band’s popular Down album, Frozen saw the Finnish quintet continue their evolution from death metal over melodic death ‘n’ roll to (for lack of a better word) “gothic” metal/hard rock, this time infusing their sound with even more rock elements than before. Whereas the term gothic (hard) rock inevitably invokes names like Sisters of Mercy, The 69 Eyes and so forth, Sentenced always had their own signature sound setting them apart from most of the bands summed up under the gothic label.

Strictly looking at the album’s musical content, Frozen might even be one of the finest examples of Sentenced’s very own brand of melancholic “gothic” metal/rock. There isn’t a bad song among the twelve that made it onto this release; even the somewhat superfluous “Burn”, which includes some lyrics (only two verses, actually) but is really more of an instrumental, isn’t long and annoying enough to make you reach for the remote control. “Burn” is also the only track still including some growled vocals, as Frozen once and for all completes the transformation from gruff death metal vocals to clean melodic singing.

While it’s a bit of a pity that the band almost completely dumped the death metal aesthetics of days past, it’s also somewhat understandable considering what a top-notch singer Ville Laihiala used to be. His gothic crooning on Frozen is clear and powerful, but he also maintains a surly rawness pleasantly setting him apart from the all too streamlined HIMs of this world. (He’s also not too posh to burp into the mic with relish, as evidenced by the instrumental break on “For the Love I Bear”.) Though the music on Frozen is sometimes rather clean-shaven, it rarely gets too cuddly, limiting its mainstream appeal and scaring away the majority of angst-ridden teenage gothic kids.

Simply put, the songs on Frozen roughly fall into three categories: the straightforward, hard-rocking ones, the longer, more epic semi-ballads, and the instrumental intros and outros. The latter are actually far from filler-type material, with the beautiful “Kaamos” perfectly setting the mood for what’s to come and the heart-wrenching and, well, delightfully mournful “Mourn” rounding things off in fitting fashion. As for the heavier, more metallic and often faster tunes, they all follow the same basic formula and, with the exception of “Let Go (The Last Chapter)”, are all under four minutes long. Energetic little gems like “The Suicider” or “For the Love I Bear”, simple though they may be, feature just the right amount of youthful recklessness and hard-rocking grit to make you wanna pop a beer or two and revel in some sweet Northern misery. The longer, more epic tunes work equally well, alternating between introspective acoustic guitar chords, metalized riffs and choruses and, of course, plenty of mournful lead melodies. “Dead Leaves” executes this blueprint to perfection, but “The Rain Comes Falling Down” isn’t far behind.

The lyrics on Frozen actually cover a wide range of topics and are by no means as monothematic or overwhelmingly morose as you might think. They are not just about suicide, mind you, but also deal with life-affirming issues such as death in general, funerals, killing yourself, taking your own life, or dying by your own hand. Sorry, couldn’t resist – this is Sentenced after all, so everyone should know what they’re in for.

Now, why the relatively low score, you might ask? Well, Frozen is one of those rare instances of bad production values and/or a subpar mix severely tainting an album and robbing it of much of its impact. Seriously, what were those guys thinking in the studio and whose glorious idea was it to crank the drums and vocals way up while at the same time turning the guitars way down and having them sound tame and restrained to the point where they almost wouldn’t feel out of place on some dusty Cliff Richard record? I’m clearly exaggerating to make a point here, but there’s no denying the rhythm guitar in particular has very little distortion or crunch. Not only is it too low in the mix, it also sounds timid and weak and, in short, nowhere near what the rhythm guitar on a metal album should actually sound like. I mean, uh, whatever happened to the venerable motto “all men play on ten”?! Seems like it fell by the wayside at the time Sentenced entered the studio to record Frozen, for whatever reason.

At any rate, whether the horrible production was the producer’s or the record company’s idea or simply a case of a band trying something new and fancy: it absolutely backfires in the worst possible way, taking away much of the pleasure of listening to an otherwise very good Sentenced album. Too bad, as Frozen might in fact be one the best and most consistent works of the band’s career. You should still pick this up if you’re already familiar with Sentenced in the later stages of their career and albums like Down or Crimson are right up your alley. If you’re new to the band, I suggest you start by getting those two instead.

Choicest cuts: Dead Leaves, For the Love I Bear, The Suicider, Let Go (The Last Chapter)