Album debut: Astrophobos – Remnants of Forgotten Horrors

Earlier this week, we checked in on one waning ’90s style: technical American death metal with a weird, tinny production. Today brings us another, in the form of melody-driven Swedish black metal. Think Somberlain-era Dissection and pre-Sheol Naglfar. Think Dawn. Are there still hordes of these bands running around somewhere? Are they lurking in the Arctic Circle, beyond the reach of internet connections and PR flacks? I don’t come across many of them.

That’s fine, because on the occasion that I do, I can still recall what I liked about the style in the first place: the feeling of fast-moving, aggressive chill. Outside of Immortal, black metal’s archetypal “cold” vibe largely gets associated with droney, repetitive bands. But real cold doesn’t plod. It moves faster than you’d think. It bites and slashes at you, looking for chinks in your defenses. Go outside with no gloves in sub-zero temperatures at some point. It doesn’t take 15 minutes of sea-shanty drumbeats for your fingers to go numb.

Astrophobos (who are from Sweden, naturally) channel that active antagonism on Remnants of Forgotten Horrors, their debut LP. Judging by their song titles, they don’t sing about COLD or WOODS; “Astrophobos” is a Lovecraft poem about the night sky. But to me, the vibe is pure blizzard — all icy diatonic harmonies delivered by intense speedpicking and driving, trebly drums. Blizzards are violent events, after all.

I’ve heard countless permutations of these riffs before, and yet Astrophobos are making inroads in my brain. It’s tempting to attribute this fact to “riff dynamics,” or “songwriting chops,” or any number of other hand-wavey terms. But in reality, sometimes you can’t deny a familiar, beloved sound played to perfection. Normally I find such exercises tedious, but this one delivers on its promises.

Remnants of Forgotten Horrors comes out on January 24th via Triumvirate Records.

— Doug Moore