By now, you've certainly heard the hype surrounding this record. Frozen Soul seemed to rocket out of nowhere, putting out one well-regarded demo through Maggot Stomp that was lapped up by the death metal underground only to immediately get snapped up by Century Media for an EP and a proper studio debut in Crypt of Ice. A lot of this attention fixates on the notion of the band in general and this record in specific as Bolt Thrower worship done right, a sentiment that, while certainly grounded in key elements of this record, does a disservice to the subtler nuances that make this the standout death metal statement of 2021 so far, only a week into its existence.

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When people describe the album as Bolt Thrower worship, they're referring to the general mid-paced approach of many of the songs present, the riffs' particularly bludgeoning HM-2 approach as well as the drums' meaty, persistent downbeat, often shying away from more grandiloquent or head-twisting fills and beats you might see in more esoteric forms of death metal. I doubt the band would deny Bolt Thrower as an inspiration. To be fair, who in the world of death metal would? But this sentiment does a disservice to the subtle salts and fats that make their meat-and-potatoes approach to death metal on display here as rich and satisfying as they are. Take, for instance, the tremolo picked riffs that the band sprinkles judiciously throughout the record. They are often deployed after a simple and tonally-driven mid-paced riff, one which establishes a clear key center even for those not so worried about the finer details of music theory and its attendant issues. The tremolo picked riffs themselves, however, often deploy small and subtle accidental notes, dissonant leading tones, and land on notes that sound off in that quintessentially queasy death metal fashion, a fashion from which, notably, Bolt Thrower often shied away themselves.

Likewise, there is a sense of heft to Frozen Soul's death metal breakdowns that often has more in common with the hardcore crossover death metal groups like Fuming Mouth, Xibalba and Harms Way (or, from another frame, the earliest death metal bands, themselves often emerging into thrash and death metal via hardcore punk). While Bolt Thrower are perhaps the greatest lords of the mosh riff in the context of early esteemed death metal bands, there is a particular neck-snapping, circle pit hardcore stomp to Frozen Soul's approach that makes their work feel substantially more located in the body.

Crypt of Ice's production deserves commendation as well for threading the needle both through current trends in death metal as much as their valuable critiques. Frozen Soul shies away from drenching their guitars in reverb, keeping the distortion dry and sharp. Then, when those harmonies rear their heads, they have that glorious fruit-clenching effect we crave without sacrificing the concrete skin-scrape of the heavy chugs. The drums and vocals are given touches of reverb, making the former feel room-filling and enormous as mountain while making the latter feel like a retching beast spitting acid from the back of a rotten cave. A thick and warm bass presence errs away from the trebly and twangy tone we associate with tech death and the like but also doesn't disappear entirely behind the guitars either.

The bass often acts as a space filler, a means of underlining and adding subconscious heaviness to riffs without stealing their limelight. This is a tricky thing to accomplish, be it in terms of arranging a song, performing it, or mixing the perfect tone into the track; too often, this approach leaves bass almost as a nonentity or, worse, something that turns a mix to ugly mud. It produces a gestalt that feels spacious and produces that necessary body-music sensation of hearing it bellow from the speakers and stage of a small noisy club, walls and exposed ceiling sending careening interference patterns as the soundwaves bounce and clash against each other, but with an uncanny clarity within it. These kinds of fine touches are often what make or break a record, and their attentiveness also speaks well to the minds behind an album in a way that mere songs don't always have the power to.

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These kinds of streamlined and simplified meat-and-potatoes death metal song structures may seem on some level like a copout, especially in a modern landscape where we have bands like Blood Incantation, Gorephobia, Cryptic Shift and Slugdge raising the songwriting bar the way they have. But those tricksier and more complex song structures can be easier from a certain perspective to pull off precisely because you have given yourself more tools in the toolbox to solve the fundamental problem of art: engagement and expression. There are still problems to deal with in those more complex and florid songwriting spaces, to be fair: evading a sense of riff salad, creating an evocative sense of emotional logic linking one riff to the next, managing ear fatigue, et cetera. But knowing those struggles makes these simpler structures on Crypt of Ice shine bright: these are tightly focused songs, only a handful of riffs per song, where their value comes not from constant lysergic evolution or brain-smearing psychosis but instead pure execution. What matters here in these forms is the hook and the hook alone, be it melodic or rhythmic, making each second matter as a means unto itself rather than part of a broader and more elaborate puzzle. Depriving themselves of long winding progressive epics likewise makes the notion of album-length structure a trickier one, as songs of this stripe have the tendency to blur together after a while, something Frozen Soul likewise sidesteps with aplomb that feels shocking given that this is their debut.

What this sums to is a record that seems to describe the circle of death metal at its platonic ideal. Crypt of Ice situates itself not at the fringes of death metal, its psychedelic and literary wilds, its caustic tomblike windy cliffs and craggy precipices, its satanic steeples and abyssal wailing pits of torment; Crypt of Ice lives in its center. It shares this trait with Necrot's tremendous debut Blood Offerings and the collective works of the mighty Cannibal Corpse. This is perhaps the most key notion of the group's work that they share with Bolt Thrower, a band that grew from grindcore originals to one of the defining death metal-without-adjectives bands of all-time. In this sense, their relation to Bolt Thrower is anything but a dismissive and reductive toss-off comment; it is high-praise, one well-earned with such a tremendous debut to start off a year that, so far, has managed to be a total nightmare. That this album dropped a mere two days after an attempted open fascist coup in the capital of the United States, a coup precipitated by years of fascist organizing exacerbated by the existing fascist structures of the American state and its culture, all feels tremendously timely for a record about braving and ultimately succumbing to the deadly atmospheres of the arctic. Art, after all, does not exist in a vacuum but emerges both from and into a world of people, the flesh and webwork of history. Some bands would have had their thunder stolen by such a monumental and frightening event. Frozen Soul do not. Their death metal—stern, vicious, militaristic, cold—feels necessary and even refreshing or empowering in the wake of such an act. They couldn't have anticipated such a historic event underscoring the primal necessity of music like this and, had their record been less superb, it may indeed have potentially spoiled their release. But their work has both the proper tenor and proper quality to seize up this moment as a defining rebuke of the terror of fascism. I fucking love death metal.

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Crypt of Ice released January 8th via Century Media Records.

Pick up the limited edition baby-blue vinyl variant available in our curated collection on BrooklynVegan's shop.