Many moons ago, during this very wintery time of the year, I first began to explore the sub- and sub-sub-genres of black and death metal. For me, it was the combination of the calming snowfall and the lonely/depressed state-of-mind at the time that made me a willing victim to the symphonic/melodic black metal and melodic death metal genres. To this day, I go back to those classic albums by bands like Dimmu Borgir, Dark Tranquillity, Hypocrisy, and early In Flames and Arsis (along with many others). Be it the symphonic elements delivered by keys or orchestras, the heart-wrenching chords, or the emotionally devastating melodies, the music still captivates me and keep me hoping for more. Those old albums drug me deep into my depression until it seemed to momentarily subside, allowing the music to completely engulf me.
Over a decade later, I still sink into those dark moments of depression that make me crave that mind-numbing escape. Even though I have a different life filled with different problems – and live in a scorching, snow-less hellhole – I continue to scour the scene for something to fill the void and cure that reoccurring snow-packed depression of old (even though, it’s now a sand-packed depression). However, there have been few albums over the years to instill that same feeling of anguish I discovered long ago. Queue Stormcast’s Frame of Mind. The debut album from this Cyprus-based quintet burrowed in on the first listen and has yet to back out. It’s filled with a mixture of symphonic black and melodic death that tastefully balances metallic moments with orchestral keys, while delivering songs soaked in anger, emotion, and the unexplainable nightmare of losing a loved one to war. Everything this little Dr. Debbie Downer needs to drown in a pool of despair.
Opener “The Executioner” is a straight-up melodic ditty that incorporates a Septicflesh-like atmosphere that breaks down into a trashy number before propelling itself into some Iced Earth rehashing. The track delivers the very essence of Stormcast with a keyboard-driven atmosphere that hovers like a personal raincloud (thanks to keysman Mark McDonald). “Wishful Bliss” follows suit as a highly memorable track utilizing Dark Tranquillity’s melodic riffs, their beautiful atmosphere, and some signature black shrieks/death growls provided by Mike Angastiniotis. For more of the Dark Tranquillity influence, look no further than “Withdrawn” and “Dysthymia.” The latter is chockfull of Dark Tranquillity worship that begins with classic, reverb-soaked guitar plucking and ends with a haunting piano adaptation of the song’s intro. It’s a powerful song that leaves you and the album without closure; just as it should be.
Along with the opener, the Iced Earth influence rears its head yet again in the very “Dante’s Inferno”-like intro to “Of Flesh and Stone,” while Sabaton forces its ivory rhythms into “In Entropy.” The former may be one of the classiest and saddest expressions of losing a child to war (or more generally, losing a soldier to war) that has ever been captured in metal. Filled with clean vocals, samples, devastating solos, and dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Mari naval explosion of Cyprus, this is not only the most unique track of the album, but it’s also what makes Stormcast so special. The vocal performance is so fucking convincing and utterly heart-wrenching. However, as vocal performances go, you can find more of Angastiniotis’s emotional screams in highlights like “New World Order” and “Withdrawn.”
As one would expect from this style, the production is brickwalled to death in order to make Frame of Mind as big as possible. It doesn’t ruin the decently balanced vox/guitars/bass/drums/keyboards, but prying apart the dynamic range would have made things much grander. Another issue is the weak drum recording. While I’m not bashing the top-notch musicianship, the drums lack the punch required of the music. This leaves many of the riffs and transitions feeling weak in the “umph” factor.
This may be the perfect example of an album that was in the “right place at the right time” for me, but it’s almost perfectly balanced between atmosphere and heaviness, and feels spontaneous and unforced. Tie that in with a convincing vocal performance that drips of pain and anguish and you’ll be wishing for a cold forest, falling snow, and complete isolation in no time.