I have to admit that I picked up Frostbite‘s Etching Obscurity for the cheesy band name and the “progressive black metal” tagline. Expecting a pretentious ambient/avant garde black metal album to laugh circles around, I instead found Etching Obscurity well worth my time. Frostbite‘s debut is a product synthesized from acoustic guitars, lush melodies, memorable choruses, tight instrumentation, calculated time changes, and a variety of blackened rasps and death-like barks. These Canadians bring a decent amount of originality to the fold, making it difficult to pin down the group’s major influences and genre. One thing is for sure, the “progressive black ‘n’ roll” description surfacing on the interwebz is not it. Frostbite taps into melodic death, melodic black, and progressive metal with great success, setting a decently high bar for February.
Frostbite opens Etching Obscurity beautifully with the moody instrumental “Ascending the Void.” Its atmosphere is captivating and its purpose is unmistakable; building, from ground-up, a foundation capable of withstanding the weight of the other ten tracks. These soothing clean guitars transition into “Sigil Seal” before being replaced with Krystal Koffin’s harsh voice and some melodic black metal riffage. Around the 3:00 mark the band introduces the kind of variation inherent on the rest of the album. The guitars charge ahead with a Symbolic/The Sound of Perseverance-inspired riff; each six-stringer inhabiting separate headphone channels—much like Solace of Requiem‘s Casting Ruin. With the guitars driving the rhythm, the bass and drums move to the front row with Koffin’s deathy growls, delivering catchiness and aggressiveness fitting to the album’s character.
“Through the Grave,” “Soul Devourer,” and “The Pest” borrow the formula of “Sigil Seal,” but escalate the flavor with a shit load of progressive spice. For the most part, the resulting epicness is a success (“Through the Grave” and “Soul Devourer”) but other times it feels forced (“The Pest”). “The Pest” is a decent song but the spacey interlude and stop-and-start sections disrupt the flow of its Woods of Ypres atmosphere. “Through the Grave,” however, does its damnedest to secure the title of “Most Epic Song” on the album and, for the most part, it achieves it. The transitions from acoustic cleans to distorted melodies are memorable, and the painstakingly precise guitar leads click together like tongue-and-groove floorboards. “Soul Devourer” achieves a similar “epic” quality reminiscent of Vreid‘s Milorg. This tracks does a near-perfect job of incorporating all the best Frostbite elements: melody, groove, head-bangable riffs, and one of the best vocal performances of the album—just behind the perfectly intertwined clean vocals and harsh barks of the cello-laden “Shining.”
My biggest complaint with Etching Obscurity is probably an obvious one. Within a given song, the band explores every nook and cranny of their progressive style and, while individual tracks work, the album’s organization weakens the overall effectiveness. From opener “Ascending the Void” to “Soul Devourer,” the flow is decent. However, “Forgotten Path” turns out to be the platter’s trouble-maker. Not only is “Forgotten Path” the weakest song, but single-handedly disrupts the conclusion of the album. The transition between “Forgotten Path” and the perfectly soothing closer, “Erased from Existence,” is so awkward that it prematurely rushes the album to the finish line and inevitably saps the life out of the concluding instrumental. While this awkwardness doesn’t cripple Etching Obscurity, it would have been better if it had closed with “Soul Devourer.”
Production-wise, the brickwalling on Etching Obscurity is kept to manageable levels, allowing the vocals and instrumentation to become equals. The mix is well-balanced and the performances are top-notch—the latter being essential for this band’s success. Overall, Frostbite have found themselves on Dr. Grier‘s radar and, if it wasn’t for some of the flaws toward the end of the album, Etching Obscurity would have easily scored a 4.0. Nevertheless, this is truly a very good album and worth the journey.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3