Freja – Tides Review

I’m a simple creature, really. If you make your album even vaguely Nordic-themed, I’ll pay attention. The mythologies that have spawned countless legends, a whole lot of music, and many other artistic expressions are so enduringly popular for a reason, and their themes have similarly lent themselves to some really good metal. Freja is among the newest bands to find influence in this striking topic, a Dutch duo of one C. and W., who describe their style as one of “towering, thundering” atmospheric black metal. Tides is their first full-length release. Two experienced musicians, one awesome concept, and thirty-nine minutes of music—how does it all hold up?

Before I answer that, I want to address the style of Tides, because the album often feels a lot closer to death doom than it does atmospheric black metal. Sure, there are blast beats, tremolos, and some awesome shrieks courtesy of C., but Freja finds its moments far more often in the quieter, heavier, and “doomier” passages of their work. Take opener “Our Chosen Path,” for example, which hits the ground running with fast drumming, big roars, and a clear focus on good old black metal. There are hints of melody here and there, subtle secondary guitar lines and quiet keys, but the angry, Saor-like style (particularly in cavernous roars from W.) is what stands out. Then, halfway through, the style shifts—the music slows, the drumming becomes more upbeat, and the song takes on a more journeying feel. C’s clean singing, used to accent the music as in Shape of Despair, joins forces with a simple but beautiful picked guitar melody to build a haunting atmosphere. It quickly becomes clear that this is what Tides is all about.

To put it another way, while Freja has a clear appreciation for black metal, the atmospheric moments are the ones where they’re strongest. “Of Those Stricken by Fate” may be designed as an interlude track, but it’s also one of the strongest songs on the album, owing to gorgeous guitar work and C.’s clean singing. “Scattered Shields” is otherwise about as far away from black metal as the duo gets on Tides, and the result is strong, again highlighting what Freja does really well: slow, heavy, haunting passages of atmospheric metal. Segments of galloping riffs and controlled chaos are used to tell a story, but it’s the siren-like lead guitar towards the end of the song that might be my favorite moment on Tides. Compared with the way “Cloaks of Valor” begins immediately with pounding drums and rapid-fire riffing, it’s hard not to think that the closer Tides wanders to black metal, the less nuanced and emotional it feels.

I won’t discount the possibility that I’m being harsh with that last comment, but the truth is that it’s a bit hard to say because the production holds back Freja in these crucial moments. Given that I’ve expressed a fondness for the slower, more focused moments on Tides, it should come as no surprise that I wish the production was a touch more polished than it is. Like their countrymen FluisteraarsFreja opts for a rough sound, favoring distortion for the guitars and reverb on the harsh vocals, while placing emphasis on the keys and most of the cleans. Unfortunately, a part of this style means that the drumming is heavily blunted and the guitars don’t have a lot of heft to them, which is fine when Freja isn’t going for intense, black metal fury, but holds them back somewhat when they are. Tides as an album has a strong sound, but wavers somewhat in its feel as a result.

At different points, album closer “Cloaks of Valor” is furious, upbeat, haunting, and atmospheric. It closes the album on a beautiful note, even as it begins with another sequence of furious-but-not-that-hard-hitting black metal tremolos. It tries to do everything, and is more successful in some spots than others, despite being an altogether enjoyable song. In this way, it is an excellent microcosm for Tides as a whole. This album has a great sound, but doesn’t quite seem to know how it wants to express it. Tides feels like an album with an identity crisis, but still one with strong potential. I will be looking forward to the next one! But I can only hope it will be more focused on what Freja does best.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Babylon Doom Cult
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 22nd, 2022

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