Grima – Frostbitten Review

Finally, I have wrested reviewing rights for Russia’s Grima from the grips of the dastardly Cherd of Doom. Not, it should be noted, because he accepts that he underrated the masked duo’s last two albums but because he has other pressing deadlines. Underrate them he did though, in my opinion at least. 2019’s Will of the Primordial and the 2021 follow up, Rotten Garden, were both 4.0s if you ask me (not that Cherd did ask me). Atmospheric black metal powered by the icy winds of the tundra and the exhaled air of a bayan1 or accordion, Grima is very much my cup of vodka. Brothers Vilhelm and Morbius (both also of Second to Sun) shifted emphasis slightly between the raw, bayan-driven folky black metal of Will of the Primordial and the more traditional, and slightly more polished, atmoblack of Rotten Garden, which featured less bayan (not MOAR!, as we all wanted). Where are The Brothers Grimazov2 headed on fifth album Frostbitten?

Interestingly—and rather to my relief—Grima has chosen to navigate a wending way, that more or less threads the needle between its last two releases, with a little more rawness and folky tropes (acoustic closer “Mana,” and “Winter Morning Tower,” now featuring MOAR! bayan, courtesy of guest Sergey Pastukh) introduced back into the more grandiose, atmospheric soundscapes of Rotten Garden.3 Vilhelm’s rasping shriek is as full of broken glass and razorwire as ever, while the guitarwork from him and Morbius sometimes takes on a slightly whimsical, almost eerie note (the opening to “Gloomy Heart of the Coldest Land,” for example), which reminded me of the excellent Koldovstvo. Altogether less lo-fi than their fellow Russians, however, Grima favours a rich, textured sound, driven by pummelling work from studio drummer Vlad, whose relentless assault on the kit is the engine room for Frostbitten.

Lurching from acoustic passages to raging black metal tumults and tundra-sweeping atmospheric passages, Frostbitten has a flow and pacing to it that means its 48-minute run flew by on each of my dozen or so listens. As the guitars and drums briefly fall off, leaving the bayan alone for a few seconds late on in “Giant’s Eternal Sleep” and the black metal then slams back into life, it’s almost a fist pump moment, something I rarely look for in atmospheric black metal and find even less. The soaring “Into the Twilight,” which features some clean backing vocals alongside shimmering effects from (another guest) Valentina Astashova’s keys, shifts gears for Grima once more, before the track’s cascading tremolos take hold like an icy waterfall, while “Hunger God” oscillates between a rumbling menace bordering on death doom and some of the most furious black metal on the record. On “Moonspell and Grief,” if one stripped out Vilhelm’s tortured roars, there are moments that border on soaring, if blackened, power metal.

Tightly written and well-paced, I have no real criticisms of Frostbitten. The shanty-like bayan that opens penultimate track “Winter Morning Tower” brings a smile to my face, just as the raging album opener “Gloomy Heart of the Coldest Land” raises my heart rate as it erupts into frosty life. Mixed and mastered by Second to Sun guitarist Vladimir Lehtinen, Grima sound damn good on Frostbitten, with some of the warmth of Rotten Garden frozen out and replaced by an altogether icier edge to the strings. The instruments are balanced and, even in the most frenetic sections, given space to breathe and move round each other. If I were being ultra critical, which I suppose I ought to be, I could say that the drums are slightly too loud in places, occasionally dominating proceedings, but that is a minor gripe.

Is this Grima’s best record to date? That’s a tough call but it is certainly the band’s most balanced and well-rounded, successfully blending the faces of the last two records into one rippling sonic palette. It doesn’t have quite the raw charm of Will of the Primordial but nor does it lean quite as hard into the grander, borderline symphonic, notes of Rotten Garden (also avoiding the latter’s atmoblack genre tropes). From start to finish, Grima has played a blinder on Frostbitten. It doesn’t hurt either that it all comes wrapped in that stunning artwork.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Naturmacht Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 29th, 2022

Show 3 footnotes

  1. A type of Russian button accordion developed early in the 20th Century.
  2. Beauteous literary wordplay! – Holdeneye
  3. You almost took up the whole second paragraph with one sentence. I’m not mad. I’m impressed. – Holdeneye
« »