FRIGHTFUL – Spectral Creator (2021)REVIEW

Although they’ve been presented to the general public as a death/thrash metal crew who’d previously debuted as a baby-killing, nun-desecrating deathgrind band upon formation in the mid-2010’s Gdansk, Poland-based death metal quartet Frightful are in fact transformed unto harrowing spectacle on this their debut full-length. ‘Spectral Creator‘ is the spitting image of early 90’s Swedish melodic death metal when its origins were still vitally charged by underground thrash metal and crossed over with influences from then-emergent second wave black metal. A rasping and garage-booming fog shroud this satisfying enough study of ye olde furious-yet-melodious artform but it is the quartet’s own youthful take on ‘old school’ death-thrashing aggression that acts as the catalyst for all to coalesce into truly mayhemic form. It is the sort of violent, riff-heavy experience we’re so rarely served by the new generation, a brutal soul-accosting feat purely reserved for the enjoyment of the ‘ready indoctrinated.

You will know them for their brutality if you know them at all… because, again, Frightful formed as a young deathgrind trio influenced by Carcass and Demolition Hammer in 2016 and it was presumably formed as a sort of side-project for members of Pandemic Outbreak, whom started out speed metal and went death/thrash on their recent debut, too. What can we glean from these beginnings? The major thing to take away from observing the past work from Frightful in particular is that they arrive in the exact right tradition of extreme metal throughout the ages. The inspiration is palpable in every chord they hit, they know the “right” attack and knew how to hit hard on those punkish death metal EPs early on (see: ‘Born for Burial‘, 2016 & ‘Cannibalistic Rites‘ 2017) but on that second EP it was clear they’d been perfecting a late 80’s thrash metal sound and some absolutely brutal work from drummer Krzychu (ex-Dreadnought) who’d found a good mix of straight Autopsy slaps and ‘Gardens of Grief’ blasts therein. With their ‘Astral Freeze‘ demo in 2019 we hear the band find the basis for this new sound which landed somewhere between ‘The Awakening’-era Merciless (or Massacra circa ’92) and that level of death/thrash brutality but also working with left-hand structures innovated between Unanimated and Eucharist among others, a goal which is doubly highlighted by a note-for-note cover of “Son of the Mourning” (Deicide riffs and all) from Dissection‘s first EP ‘Into Infinite Obscurity’. ‘Spectral Creator’ draws from this same font of inspiration but they’ve dug quite a bit deeper into the “hard as nails but successfully melodic” realm thanks to plenty of pandemic downtime.

As much as I’d like to say Frightful hit upon the level of forgotten gems in this general style, such as The Moaning‘s ‘Blood From Stone‘ or Maze of Torment‘s ‘The Force‘, their combination of melodic black/death metal with traditional death/thrash metal influenced riffs is all over the place to start. Opener “Astral Freeze”, which you’ll recognize from the prior demo, has a distinct ‘Leprosy’-era Death grind to it which, when paired with Dissection influenced movement reads akin to the debut from Apoplexy (Slovakia) during its more harried moments. None of these observations are complaints on my part, the band is essentially speaking my language throughout the full listen as they pick and choose different melodic death and death/thrash metal ideals as a base for each piece. The execution isn’t perfect and some of the guitar work is brutally unoriginal here and there but Frightful do eventually make their case thanks to a harder edged sound which commits to its own brutal melodicism throughout. Though they are often lead-driven a la ‘The Somberlain’ the actual melodies that drive songs like “Destructive Species” and “Abhorred” are simple enough to recall the best parts of demo-era Dawn, Excretion (‘The Dream of Blood‘) and even Dark Tranquility‘s ‘Trail of Life Decayed’, none of which was primitive in the least but still honing in on multi-tiered melodic presentations. It still reads like pure death metal or the hardest late 80’s Kreator influenced death/thrash metal of the era in most cases but the melodic aspect of ‘Spectral Creator’ is decidedly front and center.

“Abhorred” in particular begins to show just how much of a difference the drummer’s breakneck style helps to glue the force of the the band to their otherwise melodic directives, punching out performative breaks in the action which could only come from listening to and truly absorbing the effectual force of classic extreme metal. These spastic details make a huge impression when returning to the album for repeat listens and helped to sustain my interest in ‘Spectral Creator’ far beyond expectations. The main event and easily my favorite pairing amongst the lot of songs here comes mid-album as “Breaking the Twightlight” and “Crimson Dawn” showcase the height of ambition reached on this debut. The first piece notably achieving the angular peak of Scandinavian melodicism which hangs heavily over the full listen and “Crimson Dawn” serving us the final big rhythm guitar hooks as Frightful begin to accumulate songs that are more directly evolved from late 80’s death/thrash metal, including a largely untouched arrangement of “Angel Waste” from the ‘Astral Freeze’ demo. The running order is the least effective aspect of ‘Spectral Creator’, these more primitive thrashing pieces might’ve made a more thrilling impression earlier but they begin to feel like a regression as we hit the last two songs prior to the impressive closer/title track, a standout in its own right.

‘Spectral Creator’ has everything going for it in terms of acceptably authentic takes on classic melodic extreme metal savagery yet Frightful still have a plenty of room to improve and experiment with their own signature, which I’d argue hasn’t yet fully formed here. Even if I do see this record as one step toward a more original breakthrough it isn’t a slight from my point of view, this connection made between riff obsessed death/thrash metal and melodic black/death austerity is a rare and glorious feat which they’ve managed quite well, I just don’t think they’re done evolving yet. The bass guitar tone needs more definition, the logo and typeset on the cover layout are a bit too fussed over, but otherwise this is a fantastic debut from a band who absolutely need to keep going in this direction. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Spectral Creator
LABEL(S):Awakening Records
RELEASE DATE:October 31st, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Melodic Death Metal,
Death/Thrash Metal

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