Sweden’s Netherbird is aiming to be the angry black metal bird that revamps the music industry. Although they aren’t particularly well-known yet, their 2010 release Monument Black Colossal met with my approval and I found their Cradle of Filth-meets-Dissection style of symphonic heaviness quite enjoyable. Since that release, they appear to have adopted an unusual marketing approach for their music. They’ve announced their intention to release three EPs over the next year, which together would comprise their next full-length album. As we speak, Shadows and Snow, the first of these planned EPs, is available for free downloading on their home page. It’s unclear if the future releases will be free or not. Whether this new approach will catch on or not remains to be seen but hey, free downloading from the band itself is always damn cool. So, is this worth the price of…free? Yes, it would be worth it even at twice that price (whatever that means). While very short (three songs and a musical interlude), Shadows and Snow features well crafted, engaging black death with enough personality to stand out from the frostbitten, frowning hordes and in these days of black metal malaise, that’s high praise indeed. Oh, and it’s free too!
The title track is a lengthy opener with a nicely gloomy, frigid vibe that slowly ramps up into something akin to epic viking metal with symphonic fruitery around the edges like a garnish. The Cradle of Filth influences are still present but the riffing has more in common with vintage Dissection (though this is way more laid back and melodic than either of those renowned acts). Nephente’s vocals alternate between charmingly black cackles and guttural death croaks (he even does that cool Dani Filth tea kettle scream at times) and the main riff pattern is engaging and sturdy. Hell, they even bust out some well placed and mournful strings a la My Dying Bride. It’s quite a mammoth track for the money! Follow up “Twilight Gushes Forth” (gothy porn title supreme) opens with Dracula’s castle keyboards before taking on Amon Amarthy battle riffery for a mid-paced stomper well suited for war marches. Closer “Ode to the False (Esse non Videri)” is exceptionally anthemic for a black metal song and has some cool, convoluted trem-picking paired with vocals that could appear on the new Arch Enemy album. I don’t mean that as a slight but Nephente does sound like Angela Gossow when she does her “blackened death” thingee.
As with their last release, the guitars of Bizmark and Johan Nord are appropriately black, bleak and catchy. They aren’t doing anything new per se but they write consistently engaging riffs and toss in some interesting playing choices (check out 4:30 and onward on “Ode to the False”). These guys can play well and there’s some solid professionalism on display throughout. I’m also a fan of Nephente’s vocal approach and he elevates his game on these songs. While I’m greatly weary of symphonics in black metal, the way Netherbird incorporates it doesn’t perturb me. It’s there but its on the periphery and adds mood without overwhelming or distracting. There’s a lesson here for all the other tooty fruity sympho bands out there. Less is more.
Although painfully short, this album teaser (or new release paradigm) showcases improvement from their last platter and sees Netherbird coming into their own. What can I say? I like the cut of Netherbird‘s jib. They write thoughtful, melodic black metal and they do it well. They remain a band to watch and you just can’t beat the value here. Steel Druhm never refuses a bargain. A coupon for day old sushi? I’m in!