Barrowlands Find Warmth Inside The Frost On “Tyndir”
Glance at the cover art for the upcoming album by Cascadian black metal band Barrowlands: it depicts something you might see from the inside of a cozy one-room cabin, a lone outpost of warmth and security at the constant risk of being swallowed up by the towering, threatening trees which ring its stout walls. The view through the window’s thick, frosted glass is distorted by the accumulation of ice over countless frigid nights, yet there is little else to do but gaze out into the depths as a fire crackles soothingly nearby. Perhaps you’re alone in this cabin, unable to leave until the snows outside cease their relentless assault. If and when you find yourself in such a situation, turn to Barrowlands’ newest record Tyndir for solace.
The beginning notes of album opener “Hyperion” are tinged with horror and set the tone appropriately for what is to come. The band make heavy use of repetition to sculpt a crushing sense of weariness and despair, though there is always a thread of hope that dangles within arm’s reach. Songs meander as they progress and evolve while adhering to the album’s thematic elements of “beauty, sorrow, rage, and awe,” as detailed by guitarist Jay Caruso. There are several of moments in which a firmer editing hand could have helped tighten things up, as the repetitive and wandering nature of the songs can become fatiguing at times. As the songs roll onward, though, their hypnotizing effect is multiplied.
The album’s five songs have more variety than expected. In addition to the requisite tremolo guitars, furious blast beats and rolling kicks, many of Tyndir's 44 minutes are dedicated to lengthy sludge movements and minimally arranged melodic passages. Barrowlands write with an approach situated on the subtle end of the spectrum, and this results in what could seem like an underwhelming release. Tyndir is written with a narrow palette, somewhat static in its intensity, and the music will slip by if not closely monitored. That said, upon repeated and closer listens, the songs unfold to reveal depth and nuance like fragile flowers after the last frost of the season.
A major contributor to Barrowlands’ position, as one apart from others within this crowded genre, is their eagerness to incorporate lead guitar work into the music. Black metal and guitar solos are not frequent bedmates, but on Tyndir, the two are inseparable. The songs are all seasoned liberally with solos, which add a hearty dose of levity to the otherwise bleak atmosphere. There are even moments in which harmonized leads (like the ending of “Hotel California”) make an appearance. This is certainly not a weapon seen in the arsenal of many black metal bands, but it is used here to substantial effect. The lead tone itself could use a bit of beefing up; regardless, the inclusion of so many guitar solos is a delightfully unexpected feature of the music. There are also numerous moments in which cellos appear, another successful choice on the part of the band.
On a related note, though vocalist David Hollingsworth’s voice complements the music aptly, he is also unafraid to shut his mouth and let the instruments speak for themselves. Perhaps it’s because he’s also busy as one of the band’s two guitarists, but whatever the reason, his vocals are employed tastefully as more of a texture as opposed to a primary element of the songs. Many of the album's best moments are those in which his dry rasp is absent, as the guitars take over the narrative duties with their wordless storytelling.
The band are at their strongest when they’re actually not ripping through tremolo blast sections. They consistently create wonderful sensations of mood and development during the album’s melodic moments, enhanced by a surprising willingness to consider uplifting chord choices and progressions. The whole ending section of album closer “Empty Hands Grasping” is one long climb out of a pit of despair, and the instrumental bridge and build in “Light of a Dead Star” is similarly evocative. Barrowlands display a skilled hand in steering and controlling the effect their music has on the listener’s emotional state.
Barrowlands may not be turning over any new stones with Tyndir, but within their purview they’ve created an album that is a worthwhile journey. The music nails the “hopeless yet persisting nonetheless towards eventual triumph and/or redemption” vibe for which so many in the genre strive to varying degrees of success and cliché. On Tyndir, Barrowlands have birthed a unified piece of music that, while requiring a conscious commitment to appreciate its gifts, ultimately delivers a satisfying payoff to the persistent.