I can’t recall another band in recent memory that has exploded as quickly as Frozen Crown. These Italian rising stars formed in 2017, and now, less than two years later, I’m stunned to have in my hands their second full length record. Not that I’m complaining; The Fallen King, their debut from last year is one of the better power metal debuts I’ve heard, a varied, exciting blending of power metal and melodeath, both molded in the Finnish tradition. Yet my anticipation was weighed down by a hint of trepidation. The Fallen King was not without a handful of minor, yet distracting issues, which a year of refinement was doubtful to rectify. In reality, Crowned in Frost is representative of both a half step forward and a full step back. This sophomore offering is notably weaker than its predecessor, yet its unique strengths make it a worthwhile companion piece.
The first full track, “Neverending,” showcases that Frozen Crown‘s strengths still shine brightest with a boulder on the gas pedal. This track feels more blistering and efficient than damn near anything from the debut album; driven by galloping melodeath riffs and elegant time signature changes, it sets the tone early for Crowned in Frost‘s best cuts. Other highlights fall even closer to the melodeath end of the Frozen Crown spectrum, resulting in some of the most accurate Wintersun worship I’ve ever heard. I’d be damned giddy if the next offering from Finland’s leading in-studio sauna advocate sounds half as potent as “Winterfall,” an icy blast of brain-twisting lead guitar work. The bolstered aggression reserves are complimented by a total absence of bad tracks. Where the crummy pseudo-ballad “Across the Sea” spoiled the self-titled record, its Crowned in Frost counterpart, “Lost in Time,” is a heartfelt composition that invokes the earnestness of early Sonata Arctica.
Though devoid of any true stinkers, Crowned in Frost is still dragged down by a handful of middling tracks. “Battles in the Night” is essentially a lesser, forgettable version of “Kings” from the self-titled record, while “Unbroken” is similarly unmemorable outside of its gripping, weighty introductory riff. These cuts are disappointing because they lack a spark of originality, whereas a flame of creativity defined Frozen Crown‘s prior work; streamlining is to be expected in a sophomore record, but here, the process has come at the expense of the debut’s impressive variety. The overall quality of the melodies feels diminished as well, weakening the desire to sing along to the album’s refrains. Hell, the title track seems to be missing a chorus entirely, a damned shame considering that otherwise it’s the most rhythmically explosive and instrumentally explorative track on the record.
Thankfully, the record still succeeds in spite of its shortcomings, partially due to its static roster of considerable talent. Lead vocalist Giada “Jade” Etro continues to imbue her performances with distinctly warm tonality, and though the clean vocal contributions of guitarist Federico Mondelli are less frequent, he still underscores Etro’s work with excellent harmonies, and delivers a fantastic solo performance in the bridge of “In the Dark.” His string-work, in conjunction with that of co-guitarist Talia Bellazeca, remains as impressively sharp as ever, while improved mixing finally brings to light the work of bassist Filippo Zavattari and drummer Alberto Mezzanotte. Though loud as all hell, the vastly improved mix balance crushes that of the debut, while the engineering ensures that the rhythm section finally packs the weighty tones demanded by Frozen Crown’s energetic sound.
Crowned in Frost sees Frozen Crown drawing closer to the sound of Sonata Arctica-meets-Wintersun promised in the promo kit of their first record, but in the process they’ve shed some of what originally made them unique. Between the lack of experimentation and the notably less infectious choruses, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the band should have taken an extra year off to refine their approach. While Crowned in Frost may not cement Frozen Crown as a great band, it does at least confirm that they are a reliably good one, and one from which I will be eager to hear this record’s follow-up once it arrives. I just sincerely hope they don’t settle into a permanent coast between now and then, as doing so would be to squander the obvious, untapped vein that is their full potential.
DR: 5| Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Avalon (Japan) | Scarlet Records Official | Bandcamp (Worldwide)
Releases Worldwide: March 22nd, 2019