“New year. New me.” Those four words were uttered by practically everyone on my social media feed at approximately 12:01 am on January 1st of this year. All great and everything, but why must you be entirely new? I, for example, am quite happy being a cantankerous dude whose alter ego is one-half adorable internet meme, and one-half winner of last month’s Record o’ the Month honors. Another thing that won’t ever change is my luck when it comes to reviewing one-person black metal bands. You know my feelings about this very subject, but once again, here we are. With 2 splits, 11 full-lengths, and 5 EPs, Russia’s Frozen Ocean is quite the prolific entity for one dude named Vaarwel. And now, I have his sixth EP, The Prowess of Dormition. New year, new one-person black metal to digest.
And upon cursory listens to their most recent output, that phrase up above could also apply to Mr. Vaarwel as well, seeing as how the band started off as a melodic black metal outfit, but on 2014’s Weighing Form and 2015’s Prills of Remembrance, he dove into ambient drone and triphop, respectively. The Prowess of Dormition sees him return to his icy-cold roots, and with major success. Opener “No Blizzard” starts off slowly with a shimmery melody atop well-programmed drums before lunging face-first into the snowstorm, reminding me of a younger Borknagar, but more upbeat. Vaarwel’s growling recalls Mikael Åkerfeldt’s earlier works, and it fits with the music perfectly. About halfway in, there’s a neat electronic melody to keep you on your toes, and the tasteful keyboard lines provide a beautiful, icy sheen to a great song. This is an incredibly engaging way to introduce an EP.
The other three tracks are also of great quality, though they may not shine as bright as the opener. Instrumental “Det Siste Snøfallet” feels a bit longer than its 5-minute length would suggest due to some repetition of riffs, but is still quite enjoyable. The closing title track displays some strong tremolo riffs with icy guitar melodies draped over some impressive drum programming and hypnotic electronics. “Once Aglow,” the longest song at just over seven minutes, keeps things mostly engaging despite the song’s length. The problem that The Prowess of Dormition suffers from is that Vaarwel picked the strongest song to lead off the EP. Mind you, the rest of the songs vary from good-to-great, but “No Blizzard” is easily the keystone of the entire EP, and it feels like the remaining tracks are playing catch up.
Hats off to the production, as there are some great dynamics here. The guitars have enough punch to be effectively icy and cold, the bass pops in and out when necessary, and the drums, albeit programmed, sound like Vaarwel’s sitting behind an actual drum kit, laying out some convincing fills and rhythm patterns. That’s not easy to pull off by any stretch. The only things left wanting by me is a shuffling of the track order, as again, “No Blizzard” is such a strong song, the rest of the album pales in comparison. Also, maybe a little variety in Vaarwel’s guitar melodies, such as some vibrato, perhaps.
This is an enjoyable EP and at a scant almost-25 minutes, it does the job of leaving the listener wanting more. If Vaarwel can hone his blackened craft a bit more, he could be on to great things in the near future. I’m digging this greatly. Good work!
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings
Websites: frozenoceanrus.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/frozenoceanrus
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2016