I fucking love black-thrash, and if you don’t then I’m sorry about your inferior taste. My latest sample of the genre comes from Frosthelm, hailing from Minot, North Dakota of all places (coincidentally the same town as Ghost Bath – in case anyone still thought they were Chinese). Frosthelm are a quartet of self-confessed Dungeons & Dragons™ nerds1 who claim influences as broad as Metallica, Naglfar, and Dissection. While plenty of this style draws from Teutonic thrash (Nocturnal, Desaster) or Norwegian black metal (Aura Noir), I’ve never heard a black-thrash group claim the Bay Area as an influence, and that left me intrigued. The Endless Winter is Frosthelm’s debut full-length, coming after 2012’s blasty Skeletonwitch-esque The Northwinds Rend Flesh EP. Are the windswept snowfields of North Dakota suitable inspiration for a blackened thrashterpiece, or will this get stuffed straight in the woodchipper? (Follow on to see if I make shitty Fargo references for the entire review2).
Regarding the latter: Yah, y’betcha! (okay, I’ll stop); regarding the former… Winter begins with instrumental intro “Glacial Eon,” opening with folksy acoustic guitars before grandiose electric chords sweep in and take you on a flight over a frozen tundra. In two minutes it’s over, and first proper track “Storm of Teeth” bares its Bay Area thrash influence outright, tearing in with an aggressive palm-muted riff that could have been ripped from Master of Puppets. “Storm” blasts on to showcase Winter’s many facets: elegant Dissection-style melodies mixed with gusty Naglfar riffs, frantic snare-hits climaxing in blustery blastbeats, raspy yowls interspersed with bastardy growls, and thrash breaks that will leave your prefrontal cortex splattered against the inside of your skull.
Plenty of outstanding moments stem from this template. The divebombing verse notes and ’80s thrash chug in early highlight “Forlorn Tides” are downright savage, and the sulky main riff of “Tomb of Sordid Ruin” is grim classic BM. Likewise, Dissection’s icy sheen makes a grand return in “Hell Between Us” with its piercing crystalline guitar lines and weepy, layered final tremolos. Equally impressive is how the thrash and black elements remain distinct yet seamlessly flow together: see “The Dragon” and “Beneath Dead Horizons,” where guitarist Dakota Irwin violently tears through crunchy power-chords between squalls of wintry blasting. As a counterpoint to all the speed, “The Endless Winter” and thrilling closer “Silent and Dark, The Everlasting” coast along on assertive mid-paced verses that, again, suggest Storm of the Light’s Bane was on heavy rotation during Frosthelm’s formative years.
Production-wise there’s not much to complain about: the guitars have a sharp and potent bite; the occasional solos are cool, slick, and ‘Mark Z-certified’ air guitar ready; and the drums snap and batter like a fully automatic nailgun. The mix is hearty and powerful, but to nitpick, the double bass is a bit understated, and on some equipment the mid-range sounds a bit muffled – though that could just be my headbang-induced brain damage. Adding to the fun are the lyrics. While I don’t have them for reference, the snippets I can make out seem based on an Immortal-esque evil-fantasy setting, with vocalist Tyler Pfliger snarling through his lines like he’s got an axe to grind (probably a big one, wielded by an orc or something).
My biggest complaint about Winter is that it’s too short, and even that’s a petty gripe. The record is wholly complete as is: in less than 34 minutes, every echoey mid-song interlude, ear-pricking rhythm shift, ripping solo, and subsequent track feels perfectly placed to both maximize enjoyment and support the album’s overall architecture. At times Frosthelm do suffer from latter-day Skeletonwitch syndrome, where even late-album rippers like “The Dragon” invoke the dreaded question: ‘isn’t that the same riff from earlier?’ – but when said riff is brimming with fiery inspiration, and the album’s lean runtime leaves no room for filler, that becomes a minor quibble.
In all The Endless Winter is a scorching triumph, one of the best black-thrash records I’ve heard recently and a dazzling achievement by such a young band. I recommend this to anyone with the slightest interest in the style, particularly those who don’t mind frostbite or sore necks.