FROZEN SOUL – Crypt of Ice (2021)REVIEW

The fragile rigidity of a person entrenched in conflict with or, bought into, divisive egotism will inevitably adapt to depend upon a perceived or previously subjective “struggle” state ad infinitum; An socially acceptable maladaptation of formal operational development leaves the tender mind in perpetual crisis of reassurance. Ducking away from society and/or community wouldn’t feel like fresh death or liberation otherwise. Tucking into rebellion, making counter-cultural choices, and wearing the armor of stoic nihil is yet appropriate in response to the mindflayer-like effects of chaotic and perceptibly traumatic environs. It may sound like the convenient, worldly buzz of the well-backed artist speaking to music as armor to absorb the potentially mind-shattering dregs of a storied past one might be reliving but when Dallas, Texas area death metal/hardcore quintet Frozen Soul wears their plate-and-chain in concerted motion, it is in response to “…the depression of dealing with real life and the venomous people that can inhabit it…” but not in a victimized mindset, and certainly not through their lyrics. The band doesn’t suggest they’ve aimed for empowerment over ice-themed not-zombie gore but their purpose (and revelry) in the furiously idealistic mindset of mid-to-late 90’s hardcore/metalcore and the imaginative, uncensored enlightenment of early 90’s death metal brutality is evident within. Formed in 2018 and now in an unlikely position releasing their debut full-length ‘Crypt of Ice‘ on a major label less than three years later, no doubt it is charismatic simplicity that has folks who’ve heard Frozen Soul abuzz — Their timely and perhaps trendy-yet-classic interpretation of death metal is immediate, imposing and a well-formed colossus-sized slugger end to end, though the songcraft integral to their gig is yet a bit static in its greater dynamic.

You’ll have to excuse some elitist scorn or pessimism on my part, having been tied up in both death metal and various forms of “traditional” hardcore month-by-month throughout the 90’s I can see the end horizon awaiting the diminishing returns of these forms and their limitations outside of a puritanical state of preservation. Even when the focus between death metal and hardcore is split between the two inspired sub-genres or, lineages as it was for Jungle Rot, the inevitable choice to evolve or devolve makes itself when it comes time to double down upon standout personality. Slow down, eh? It’d be more pertinent to appreciate the quick-fired high gloss status of Frozen Soul today than to see their future in a crystal ball. They were hungry for the big stage for years previous and you can hear every bit of their sound rearing up to meet the challenge with style on this debut. With their hardcore/melodic death metal and blackened sludge main gigs in hiatus or exodus circa 2016 it was the right time for guitarist Michael Monday (ex-Wildspeaker) and vocalist Chad Green (End Times) to meet randomly at a Magic: The Gathering draft tourney and gel on making some music. They’d collaborate on the rebuilt End Times (check out the 2013 record) to start while simultaneously building up a bank of stuff deemed “too heavy” for the shapeshifting band, which leaned into some Plague Years kind of death/thrashing hardcore stuff on their 2019 promo tape. This excess songwriting became Frozen Soul‘s first demo (‘Encased in Ice‘, 2019) a popular release with an intentionally hollow, “cold” yet moshable death metal sound offset by their tendency towards standard hardcore influenced slug riffs. This era of rather typified “new old school” death metal bands is surely bloated and no doubt being associated with the amateurish charms of Maggot Stomp at this point built instant regard among folks who lean into this “was metalcore, went metal” mindset. It sold well. That didn’t necessarily mean Frozen Soul were in the right place; I’d have placed this band as a dead ringer for a label like Testimony Records or F.D.A. Records where such an appreciation for Bolt Thrower is typically rewarded. This was of course before I’d necessarily understood they were headed in a mosh metal direction. Mosh metal? So… are they the next Xibalba or, just Decaying with breakdowns?

We can take stock here for the sake of understanding the artist and their wares; These are extreme metalpunk nerds by sight but professional artists, as in folks who’d seek to make a living from art, in vision. Although I will source some deeper cuts here and there ‘Crypt of Ice’ is meant to be an accessible, readable and repeatable experience for a mass audience. If identifying hints of Carcass, Bolt Thrower or Obituary riffs slightly modified within a breakdown-driven death metal/hardcore hybridization event is exciting enough for a sell, man you’re in quick with these guys. Existing fans of compatriots Creeping Death and Genocide Pact will immediately recognize and glom onto their collective chunk hard and slow-chug forever modus. Without belaboring the point more than necessary, the secret ingredient is a tempered bit of Bolt Thrower set within each song. “Arctic Stronghold” is up to it right away as a stomping semi-melodic push leads to descending ladders toward a mushy mosh riffing core. My instinct is to heap scorn upon a band chugging away at a relatively subtle progression and tossing up a very plain breakdown but, ultimately the goal here seems to involve remaining within the tasteful confines of a distant sub-species of classic death metal. All the groove of a ‘…For Victory’-era beast oriented band but with virtually none of the melodic intent that’d made Bolt Thrower a memorable force leaves me feeling a bit dried out, scrambling up the walls for a foothold. As ‘Crypt of Ice’ pushes on, the mid-paced grooves of mid-to-late 90’s hardcore inform Frozen Soul‘s sound at a quick ramp; I’m not referring to the artsy math-metallic side of 90’s/early 2000’s hardcore but instead the sort of band that took Earth Crisis‘ death metal production sound and hit it with a load of thrash, a la All Out War sans any lead melodies or Slayerisms. Potent but simple movements merge with declarative performances, emphatic simplicity is the first major virtue revealed and not in the dulled “caveman” sense.

The gesture of the main riffs on “Hand of Vengeance” grind simply and straight-forward as possible. In fact most pieces on ‘Crypts of Ice’ consist of cyclic hits of fairly “generic” Bolt Thrower style introductory moments, early Death‘s abrupt transitions, and the centerpiece is typically either a slowed breakdown-sized death metal riff or an Asphyx-esque extension of mid-paced death metallic brutality via some doomed movements. Once “Encased in Ice” arrives you’ll be well aware of these frequently moshable metalcore influences as the approximate ‘old school’ death metal sound meshes in some ‘Perseverance‘ worthy chugs. The holistic effect of the spin lands along the lines of (again) newer Jungle Rot, Morta Skuld and the aforementioned modern takes on the style. The new breed of these 90’s tough guy hardcore/early metalcore influenced bands turn out pretty generic “breakdowns” in general, rarely touching upon something nearly as effectively fuckin’ grooved as, say, Obituary‘s ‘World Demise’ and it bears some mention that Frozen Soul rarely capitalize upon their biggest grooves, the potential transformation into a hook rather than a vibed riff may be key going forward. “Beat to Dust” finally finds the right path forward but we’ve more or less heard this structure (single panned guitar chug into a bigger full crew jog) five times over as ‘Crypt of Ice’ spins. The details differentiate on some level but the skeleton of these songs never quite hits its epiphany ’til then. Perhaps this isn’t that sort of band, not at all aiming for the “get up and go” pit scrub of a high-energy crew like Outer Heaven but, instead a more slugged-out n’ slowed hardcore touch to the songwriting. It won’t hold my attention or manage to stick in mind but this approach is undeniably heavy and leaves this impression above all else.

‘Crypts of Ice’ is just a bit more juiced than most of the newer acts adjacent in style today and this is all it needs to sport outright beyond a foundational understanding of what makes popular 90’s death metal rhythm guitar rule and “mosh metal” chugdowns a lot of fun. Unsophisticated as it may be I do get it, I see the demographic rabid for this stuff and the ease of accessing death metal intensity via mid-paced hardcore and pointed obviate influences is yet inviting to folks looking to hit it loud and hard with no abstracted variables involved. For my own taste the timbre of the album is blasted loud for the sake of it, not quite hitting the fiery extremity of Xibalba‘s production as of late but still meeting the requisite standard clonal polish of major label death metal acts seeking highest fidelity. In plainest terms, they’ve wiped a bit too much of the grime away and Frozen Soul loses a bit of their “old school” demo-era charm in the process. The trade-off is a huge record with big saggy grooves throughout, an easy and satisfying listen but not a huge charmer. As alluded to earlier, ‘Crypts of Ice’ is formative work in terms of sussing out the right balance of pure death metal rhythm and chugging-out extended breakdowns; It drones on, impresses in the moment, and leaves little to resolve in reflection of the full spin. Some point of differentiation is needed, of course, alongside deeper attention to varying song structures and thematic arrangement of pieces. I can appreciate the beauty this sea of riffs and shouted horrors presents but I cannot remember much of it beyond purposeful delivery. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (70/100)

Rating: 7 out of 10.
TITLE:Crypt of Ice
LABEL(S):Century Media Records
RELEASE DATE:January 8th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Century Media Store
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Death Metallic Hardcore

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