So begins my first review of 2018. I concluded 2017 with a very poor last couple of months of writing so I resolved to make some random selections from the promo bin to validate that accidental discoveries are indeed more satisfying than cherry-picking from a carefully curated end of year lists. Frost Giant had a badass name and were apparently American folk metal, two positive indicators of my listening pleasure. And yet, over three years of musical writing has taught me harsh lessons about expectations so I hit play with an open but cautious mind.
The Harlot Star splits its time between heavy and light material. The heavier stuff is nominally folk metal but is closer to melodeath in musical style. It thankfully falls on the more epic and atmospheric side of the folk metal spectrum, circumventing the tedious joviality and bounce of the likes of Korplikaani, ending somewhere closer to Wintersun with its layers and very light symphonic elements. The softer side to Frost Giant uses such tools as acoustic guitars, choral chants, piano and faux strings. It bookends with short, instrumental breathers and is replete with interludes between almost every heavy track. They’re tasteful enough and “An Exile in Storm,” in particular, boasts some cool harmonized chants.
The Harlot Star largely tracks a satisfying course; its grandiosity grows through the album, building to an apex at “The Forgotten Graves” and “Of Clarity and Regret.” The front half uses shorter tracks that develop the musical and tonal feel, giving samples to the listener, which grow into this bells-and-whistles climax. The first of these two has a progressive flavor somewhat like Enslaved while the second crescendos with a great natural conclusion. It’s an enjoyable listen through to this point. Unfortunately, 2 further tracks follow which stings as “Monuments to Nothing” extends to nearly 10 minutes while “Perpetuum et Aeternum” is a pointless, meandering outro. “Monuments to Nothing” has a great lead but it feels extraneous after “Of Clarity and Regret.” Slipping an expedited version earlier into the album would have served itself and the entirety better.
Furthermore, while the interludes are decent in themselves, the A/B/A/B structure of principle tracks and interludes results in a jolting experience where it’s impossible to fully settle into one sound before it changes. The Harlot Star flits about and this only exacerbates both the inconsistency of the sound and the quality. By the former, I mean that there are almost too many embellishments added for variety’s sake. The layered shouts used throughout don’t fit and the electronic child’s voice used in the opening to “Prisoner of the Past” is incredibly strange. By the latter, I mean that some parts are rather generic when compared with the highs. Even on the aforementioned highlights of “The Forgotten Graves” and “Of Clarity and Regret,” the opening minutes are dull. There isn’t enough sharpness across the entire record which results in its 57 minutes being too long.
The dynamic range score below reflects the majority, heavy parts of The Harlot Star. It annoyingly opens up for the softer interludes, up to 12, but to factor these into the score would be disingenuous as it’s in the heavy parts where a lack of dynamism is often most obvious. I wish bands would just use a consistent range across an entire album rather than accommodating the lowest common denominator of listener who’s incapable of using a volume control but such is life. The production is otherwise inoffensive and passes unnoticed which is good. In summary, too much is thrown into the pot and it’s not all of the same standards but many composite elements of the sound are good and there are definite strengths. The Harlot Star isn’t a show-stopping release but it at least establishes Frost Giant; I’ve heard far worse debut full-lengths.