FROSTVORE – Drowned By Blood (2020)REVIEW

Gorged on spiritual ecstasy and rallying a crowd of god-fearing swine to empty their pockets before the impending cull inevitably turns the Politico-godhead towards their blood — Aching to be freed from flesh, squashed and milked from every capillary like the fetid oil of a palm, the blood of ignorant masses offers a neutral, multi-purpose alchemical solvent for the most gilded and inhuman decadence. Banal herds who’ve ne’er touched happiness, wealth, deviation or the high acts of the impure make for the finest filler-slaughter; What then happens when the hand of oppressive spiritual domination is too inbred with bloodlust to know any self control? Too many have been culled, crippled and minced today that the cup run over to the tenth power and the blood becomes the landscape itself. Inert human societies still don’t see red or the blackening skies of the near-future where nuclear war and cataclysmic natural destruction will offer little more than a smoke-flavoring for their decimated meat. Eh, none of my rambling has anything to do with Tokyo, Japan-based death metal band Frostvore‘s lyrical concepts, which are generally inspired by horror films and the cryptic Lovecraftian mystère of classic Swedish death metal, but the mind can’t help but wander towards annihilation as their debut full-length ‘Drowned by Blood‘ unleashes its Swedeath classics-inspired rip.

I get the sense that the previous incarnation of Frostvore, who were known as Frostbite from 2012 until 2020, either had a faulty gear in the machine or the process just hadn’t been fruitful enough for the original quintet who’ve since pared down to a four piece. Their only release prior to this full-length was a decent enough EP (‘Scavenger of Human Dignity‘, 2013) but it’d been entirely green as a formative release a year into their collaboration. Seven years later they’re still somewhat rough around the edges in presentation of a more direct style of HM-2 death metal worship that works in a holistic vision of the grinding Stockholm sound with plenty of melodic ideas interspersed. As much as my mind had been tempted to think of Transgressor‘s ‘Ether for Scapegoat’ and its classic Autopsy inspired gutting back in the day you’re largely getting a pure taste of Sweden from this Japanese band. I’d suggest fans of early Intestine Baalism, Excretion‘s ‘Voice of Harmony’ will appreciate the melodic side of things though later Dismember might be a more reasonable direct comparison. When Frostvore are playing it straight the riff style has some similarities to Nirvana 2002‘s groovier parts, Afflicted‘s twisted and exuberant first album, and I suppose God Macabre on some level when things slow down. It’ll feel like they’ve not strayed that far underground at first but these songs are much more richly detailed than they appear; It might take a couple of spins to appreciate the flits between d-beaten death, doomed corridors, and what I’d consider punkish bursts of melodic death.

Giving the album a serious chance to unfurl its finery beneath the overblown gust of bulbous distortion-driven guitar sound was a challenge on my end to start. This type of guitar tone surely works within a less polished, “garage death metal” production sound but it reveals issues with transitional riffs and interrelation of melodic ideas and basal death metal arrangement too quickly. The sensation is that of walking naked through the rooms and corridors of a house with each set to very different extremes of climate control, occasionally jarring but always a mildly thrilling. I cannot fault the band for do-it-yourself production, mix and master which they’ve done an excellent job with. Most of the result works out quite well for 80’s garage-shaking death metal beyond a the oddly degraded drum sounds on “Eroded Mind”, which fizzle like a failing drum sampler. This is indicative of the whole mythos of Sunlight Studios where drum pads were used for basic hits and hats/toms were added later on real drums only the situation sounds reversed where the cymbals often sound like they’re being dissolved by radiation. All of this is charming, really good amateurish feeling moments that give a pretty typical Swedish styled death metal album some extra edge and authentic brokenness that helps it to stand out (for better or worse) in my mind. But are the songs worth a damn? Generally speaking, yes.

“Blackfield” barrels in with what I’d consider an Entrails-esque ripper with big hardcorish hits that punctuate each revolution of its main riff, eventually leading into a bigger kangpunk swell and beyond. This is the right stuff in terms of classic Swedish death metal focus, not really upping the ante or adding anything “new” to those forms. They’ve likely lead with this song because the number of changes are impressive as an introduction to the band’s sound even if it does sound a bit cobbled together, the charm is there up front. “Extreme Cold Torture” will justify the melodic death metal comparisons I’ve thrown out there previous, still linking those pieces together with Dismember-adjacent riff metrics that never go full on crust punk in their simplicity. The emergence of simple melodic lines and tremolo riffs are a nice surprise to start but they often sound lifted straight from old records and pasted into a song with different intentions. The title track is where things get interesting, I absolutely love this song’s tripping between its Unleashed-esque crunch and blustering death attack and ‘Lost Paradise’-era Paradise Lost parts, which are frankly an incredible breath of fresh air in an album that’d already begin to suffocate before Side A finishes. I specifically came back to this album several times just to get a hit of the title track and it’d go a long way in informing my recommendation of the album overall.

Side B doesn’t really bring the same sense of adventure with “The Reaper” being remarkably dry and I’d almost shut the album off on the first listen if “Eroded Mind” hadn’t gone a few interesting places. The side is pretty much saved by its arrangement of stylistic ideas, quickly moving onto the most successfully melodic death piece via the Evocation feeling tunneling of “Lake of Vein” and another jogging ‘Lost Paradise’ inspired piece that ends the album with a bit of a doomed hand. The bigger picture finds the two sides equally arranged and with a similar stylistic progression allowed within each. The more I saw the intent of the band and the flow of the album as a two-sided LP and less like a blast-through CD tracklist the more I appreciated what Frostvore had put together, which is far more remarkable than your average Swedish HM-2 driven death metal record despite totally presenting itself as one. Presentation is an important part of the appeal here as well, with an incredible piece from artist Kenro Imamura echoing the horror themes of the album while also providing some of the surrealistic feeling of the album in its pollution-ridden, red skies and mounting zombie colossus. I am so rarely an apologist for HM-2 shotgunned death metal records these days, but this is an especially well-spirited and sincere record that presents itself in such an appreciable and enthusiastic way that some of the rough edges aren’t offensive or irritating in the long run. ‘Drowned by Blood’ is an excellent record that will hopefully inspire quicker and even more detailed iteration in the future. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Drowned by Blood
LABEL(S):Testimony Records
RELEASE DATE:August 28th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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