It’s no secret: I love me some black metal. But, even I have gotten tired of every other album we review being a product of the genre. And none of it is good. So, it’s no surprise that I have to ignore a large portion of the releases that sneak by our oh-my-god-I’m-so-sick-of-black-metal filters. Again, I love the genre and still listen to way more black metal than even the sickest doctor would dare prescribe. But many of the new black metal outfits just don’t do it for me. Instead, the classics continue to monopolize my listening time. So, when a new record comes along that catches my attention, it’s only right to bring it to everyone’s attention.
Before anyone accuses me of declaring England’s Cold Fell as the next best thing in black metal, let me be clear, their debut record Irwell is good but not great. Yet, in a slimy pool of mediocre black metal outfits, Cold Fell stands a head above the others. They have an old-school Norwegian style mixed with second-wave influences. They have riffs that tear through the blackened cosmos, while maintaining an independent feeling. Not to mention that their final product—Irwell—has the kind of dynamics most bands dream of. Each element on its own would be enough to get excited about. But, put them all together and you have something really worth spinning.
“Skull Crushed against Salford Cobblestones” gets things going in a rather violent hurry. As expected from the title, the opener is a relentless behemoth hell-bent on crushing not just skulls, but every bone in your worthless body. Thankfully, this brain-nutcracker resists the urge to do it with eight minutes of nonstop black metal tremolos and offbeat snare. Instead, the band uses a hefty Darkthrone-like introduction of guitar dissonance and marching drums before unloading hot tar on its listeners. Then it undergoes a post-black transition that shows off the band’s melodic side via haunting clean guitars. This song alone hints at the potential lying past the final exhale of the album’s front cover.
Closer “Dream of Seppuku” also takes advantage of its nine-minute length to unleash every nightmarish attitude possible. The song runs through typical black metal riffage, head-snapping death riffs, and even melodic Watain-like moments. The end, in particular, represents the song’s major highlight; venturing into the dark territories of Shining and Watain with its guitar and piano duet. Along with the closing pleas and screams, vocalist L (ex-Caïna) spreads out his attack, ranging from rasps to wails to bludgeoning barks.
The other songs snatch at a particular element and run wild with it. The sinister, mid-paced “Folly (Health and Glory)” takes to the shadows, stalking anything coming near its darkened alley. “Spleen i. (In Vino Veritas)” focuses on the most anxious, desperate emotion of Cold Fell‘s sound. This track remains consistent until “Spleen ii. (Bruised Like Fruit)” ruptures its predecessor all over the inside of its ribcage. Like “Spleen ii. (Bruised Like Fruit),” “Bone Ceiling” and “The Whip (Armed to the Teeth)” bash rather than soothe. The former unleashes a chorus riff fit for the stage-collapsing assaults of Gorgoroth, while the latter delivers a six-minute exercise on Watain worship. L even ventures from his typical black metal rasps to shout and scream at the world as only Watain‘s E. is capable.
Unfortunately, the back-to-back-to-back trio of “Folly (Health and Glory)” and the two “Spleen” numbers are the reason this album didn’t score higher than it did. The twelve minutes that these three songs inhabit are twelve minutes that I seem to forget no matter how many times I listen, which is a bummer, considering that the band appeared to have a plan with the “Spleen” duo. Other than that, the rest of the album sits somewhere between good and great. With “Bone Ceiling,” “The Whip (Armed to the Teeth),” and “Dream of Seppuku” being the highlights.
But the real highlights are the performances and the production. The guitars and drums are a tight-knit symphony of chaos; bashing and smashing into your brains at the same rhythm as an accelerated heartbeat. Every riff and blastbeat ring clear, exaggerated by the record’s dynamics. Irwell may not be a RotM contender, but it’s a menacing package delivered by a band with a truckload of potential.