Nordgeist – Frostwinter Review

Black metal is a tricky beast to pin down. More, I believe, than many other sub-genres of metal, black metal is about feeling. Of course, they’re all about feeling, but black metal gets points for versatility – some black metal is designed to make you feel angry, some cold, some sad, some alone, some despairing, and the list goes on. Frostwinter, the debut full-length by Siberian single-person (known to us only as “T”) metal crew Nordgeist, is black metal that wants to make you feel something altogether more complicated. The project’s inspiration lies not in other bands of similar style, but in the long, dark winters of T’s homeland, and the stories, legends, and feel of the Nordic Buryat people who once called it home. Groups like Nordgeist are why I could never claim that black metal lacks nuance, but how well does the music speak for itself?

The best thing I can say about Frostwinter right off the bat is that it does exactly what it sets out to do in capturing a very specific “eternal winter” sort of feeling. Nordgeist does an excellent job of invoking the frigidity of long, dark winter nights, the fury of the rivers Oka and Angara, and the primal beauty of an ancient culture. The music is defined by icy-sharp tremolos, frequent blast beats, and primal shrieks that may be some of the best I’ve heard lately. T’s screaming is evocative of distant, ancient howling — you definitely won’t understand a word of it, but the album is careful to not make her voice the forefront of the music. Instead, it allows her emotional delivery to accent the music, reminding me stylistically of Brunwulf (Wodensthrone) or Chris Naughton (Winterfylleth). This is an album for guitars over screaming, and emotion over melody.

Which is not to say that Frostwinter lacks for melodic moments. Opener “Winter” does a good job of balancing between fury and beauty, opening the album at a galloping pace with ringing tremolos, ghostly wails, and blast beats aplenty. “Revenge” features a gorgeous lead guitar that weaves sorrow and bleakness into a veritable fog of frigid riffs, an essential wall of anger and despair. As the pace of the song slows, the emotional intensity picks up, uncovering Nordgeist’s greatest strength, as I see it, as a project: its skill in evoking that unique emotional catharsis that is its inspiration. While these are not necessarily songs that are going to get stuck in your head or come to you the next time you’re out for a walk, they will take you out of your present moment and deposit you somewhere altogether colder for the album’s fifty-three minute runtime.

That catharsis is important here, because the truth is that there isn’t a whole lot else to distinguish Frostwinter from other black and atmospheric black metal out there. Every song is over ten minutes long, leaning heavily on foggy tremolo riffs and unintelligible shrieks to support a lead melody that advances slowly towards a few variations, interludes, and finally a climax. During each song, for the first few times I listened to the album, I would pinpoint a moment and say to myself “ah. This must be the end of the song” — with around six minutes still to go each time. Nordgeist has good ideas, but perhaps not enough of them to fill out a fifty-three minute album of four songs. The album’s saving grace is emotional; it’s the way the guitars are produced to keep their icy edges, even as they fade into background haze, and it’s the way T’s shrieks echo across the landscape that you can see so clearly in your mind if you just close your eyes while you’re listening.

It can be difficult to assess how you feel about an album like this, where the catharsis is stronger than the music, but I can certainly start by saying that I like it. Frostwinter is ultimately a well-done debut that might have benefitted from a little extra self-editing. That T is apparently responsible for nearly every aspect of the album is impressive. Despite my criticism that the music could do with a little more nuance, the album feels unique in how it makes me feel, which is why I am absolutely looking forward to seeing what T and Nordgeist do next.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Kunsthall Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

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