A dear friend of mine winces at the thought of lasagna with mozzarella cheese. Hailing from Northern Italy, this man knows his cooking like I know ill-timed Plato references (ask my girlfriend, who I thought would appreciate it because she’s a few months more ancient than me), but is an utter purist in this regard. Here in North America, people from all over the world take their regional or national cuisine and update it, making it bigger and arguably better. Some experiments fail, but it’s the mastery of your influences and the will to proceed and get it completely wrong in the creative phase that allows for greatness instead of mere imitation. Like my beloved mozzarella-laden lasagna, and contra the wrongheaded opinion of my dear friend, Russia’s Cist doesn’t make an unrecognizable mess out of their version of Papa Schuldiner’s classic death metal recipe on The Frozen Casket1
Just like we’ve all eaten lasagna before (if not, sort your life out), we’ve all had the opportunity to taste the classic Death recipe and all of the variants on it. My dear friend will only take slavish emulation of the real thing, like Gruesome, as a proper interpretation. Cist does not appeal to this palate, as they aim for something between Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore with the more Western European notes of Pestilence’s Consuming Impulse and Testimony of the Ancients thrown liberally but not gratuitously into the mix. To my ears, the drumming is a big factor in placing The Frozen Casket firmly between Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore in terms of the Death elements of their style. Less chaotic and barbaric than Chris Reifert yet more loose and unrestrained than Bill Andrews, this is exactly the performance needed to complement riffs like Cist’s. Vocally, it’s a Schuldiner and Mameli mash-up, which suits the music perfectly.
When you cook the lasagna, even the best ingredients cannot escape the wrath of an incompetent chef. The almost uncomfortable start-stop riffing of “Incubation” gives us one of those unforgettable Death moments, except Death never wrote this one. A snappy thrash beat forms the backbone of this, with the snare correlating perfectly with the staccato part of the riff. Like the chef who just knows how much spice is needed without measuring a thing, this speaks to good instinct, something which cannot be taught. “Cryonesia” brings in a walloping riff with an expertly timed scream, hearkening back to the days when extremity was epitomized by this type of music.
Being a combination of two EPs, The Frozen Casket has a somewhat disjointed feel to it; the first five tracks are a self-contained whole, and the last three are as well. The production is noticeably different but keeps the overall vision intact, and to my ears, the quality on the first five tracks is a smidgen higher. Listening to the equivalent of a small collection of short stories as opposed to a full novel is weird and unappealing for some, and the fact that Cist has chosen this route to get their material out there may rub some the wrong way. “Imitator” has a slightly jarring homage to Cryptopsy’s “Defenestration” introduction style (the clean guitar strumming a heavy riff before an abrupt transition to the same thing with a full band), but this does little to hamper the overall enjoyment of the song, which is an absolute riff festival.
Unlike a lukewarm compendium of Death riffs that may have been scrapped by Mr. Schuldiner in the past, The Frozen Casket offers a new band’s unique take on what would happen if nomadic Death lingered for a while longer on their early sounds. Similar in spirit to the equally valuable Hellbringer, Cist doesn’t immediately jump out with an original sound but instead requires some time to appreciate the high quality of material which, at first blush, sounds like a thousand other acts we’ve heard and forgotten. After a few listens, the quality is still there and more goodies are found in various nooks and crannies, easily heard due to fantastic, dynamic, and organic production values. The indomitable early death metal sound lives on healthily and heartily on The Frozen Casket, producing not a decent facsimile but an enthralling death metal record on its own merits. It reminds of a stylistic home but has a flavor that sets it slightly apart, making for a hearty meal made by a commendable chef that should stick to the ribs for a while.
- Confusingly, the original EP with the same title comprises only the first five tracks. The remaining three comprise the earlier Chemical Tomb EP. For all intents and purposes, this is a combination of the two EPs, but the name has not been changed to reflect this. This is fine because it’s a great title and the cover art is fantastic. ↩