Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Frostwork - Lore of Winter - Ealdspell

Ever since Immortal’s first few albums, winter has been somewhat of a staple theme for black metal bands. Some choose to capture the sadness and melancholy winter evokes, some concentrate more on its ferocity and strength, and yet others attempt both. Frostwork’s Lore of Winter – Ealdspell falls most solidly into the second group with its mixture of ominous ambience and harsh sections of black metal.

On its face, Lore of Winter – Ealdspell is somewhat unimpressive from a purely instrumental/vocal standpoint. The guitar work isn’t particularly skillful or adventurous, and each of the album’s repetitive tremolo riffs are forgotten as soon as they end. The drums plod away at a slow pace and are generally relegated to the background, only occasionally speeding up to something more than a crawl. The bass, while more noticeable than in most black metal albums, never really does anything exciting. In fact, the only part of the music that is above average is the vocals, which are usually the typical black metal shrieks but performed convincingly enough to satisfy. Throw in a boatload of ambience, some clean vocals, two spoken passages, and an occasional acoustic part and you basically have Ealdspell.

However, we all know that music is more than the sum of its individual parts. The previously mentioned guitars are abrasive and cutting, reminiscent of an icy wind, and they combine with slow pace of the drums to bring to mind the image of a slow and unavoidable death brought on by the elements. These slabs of black metal are broken and separated by the sounds of frozen winds blowing, and these along with the sounds of someone trudging through the snow and some acoustic parts remind one of the capriciousness of winter. The vocals are lower in the mix and they echo like the voice of a man lost in the wilderness during a blizzard, crying futilely for help. The tracks blend together and give the album an undeniable cohesiveness.

But with so many different parts in an album, there are bound to be some misfires. Lyrically this album is somewhat disjointed, beginning with lyrics about a likely mythological white raven and ending with lyrics about perhaps a female werewolf. I’m not usually too fussy about lyrics since, let’s be honest, it’s nearly impossible to decipher what most vocals are about. However, due to two spoken tracks the jump from raven to she-wolf is jarring. Separating these two parts into two EPs instead of a single album would have been the better choice artistically. Another flaw is one I mentioned earlier; the somewhat average instrumental work. It is possible to create great atmosphere and immersion while still having interesting and memorable riffs, but sadly, Ealdspell falls short here. And while the tracks blending together creates the sense of a single piece of music instead of just a collection of songs, there’s nothing interesting enough here to listen to on its own. Either commit to listening to the whole 40 minutes or don’t even bother.

Still, for all its flaws, Lore of Winter is a fair release. The instrumentals combine with the ambient passages to create a compelling piece of black metal that manages to work far better than the sum of its parts. If you are looking for a cold piece of ambient black metal, you could do far worse than Frostwork’s Lore of Winter – Ealdspell.

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