The Germanic horde Thulcandra is back for another fast and furious bout of Dissection worship. For those who missed my review of their 2010 opus Fallen Angel’s Dominion, these chaps, lead by Stefan Kummerer (Obscura) are huge fans of the late, great Dissection and their debut was a loving tribute to their classic sound. Since I’m also a fan, their authentic and spot-on Dissection-isms (and occasional Immortal-isms) won me over enough to overlook the complete lack of originality. That release stands up well and I still spin it fairly often. Now comes their second album, Under a Frozen Sun and its a whole lot more of the same. Once again, they deliver expertly performed, melodic black metal with all the hallmarks of The Somberlain and Storm of the Light’s Bane albums. This time however, it feels slighty less fresh and engaging. Perhaps their homage schtick is growing old or maybe its the black metal weariness I’m feeling of late. Either way, while less successful than the debut, Thulcandra (or Dissection, I’m not sure which) retains just enough charm and appeal to make for some worthwhile moments of old school Scandinavian blackness, suitable for scowling and frowning in the snow. It also has several barnburners that rise above the continued pattern of staunch unoriginality.
Long-winded opener “In Blood and Fire” attacks with finely tuned trem-pickery and blast beatery and Stefan’s rasps and croaks are quite good. Where Thulcandra really excels is in the epic, almost-beautiful trem-riff patterns that appear, and disappear throughout the song. The stately, grandiose solo sections (like at 5:45) are also haunting and at times, cross over into vintage In Flames territory. Overall, a strong example of melodic black metal that offers nothing new to the genre whatsoever. The title track showcases cascading trem-riffs and a noticeable Dark Tranquility flavor (check out the stylishly traditional metal guitar-work mixed in with the trem attacks at 3:00). “Aeon of Darkness” is a face-melter with Soilwork riffing and an urgency that grabs attention. The highpoint for many will be the enormous, nine-plus-minute “Gates of Eden,” which packs enough fluid, frigid guitar wizardry to make the Snow Miser move to Florida for warmth and margaritas. If the rest of Under a Frozen Sun was at this level, this would be one bad mofo of blackness. Sadly, several of the tracks just lay there and feel generic (“Black Flags of Hate,” “Ritual of Sight” etc. etc.). Making matters worse, Thulcandra did away with most of the Immortal influences. While I’m all for a band moving beyond their influences, Thulcandra cleary has no intention of doing that so they might as well keep the nifty Immortal aping.
The main point of appeal here is the frenzied guitar work by Steffan and Sebastian Ludwig. Its their melodic but throttling performance that keeps this from becoming another throw-away black metal retread. Even on the songs that fall short, there’s impressive riffage (especially “Ritual of Sight”). Between the two of them, they carry the listener through technical soloing, trem-abuse and softer, melodic segments. With so much stellar fretboarding, I just wish the songs were more consistent quality-wise.
If you liked the last Thulcandra, this is more or less a continuation with few surprises. It’s good but not as good. While I’m not about to deny the importance of Dissection in the history of black metal, I think Thulcandra needs to grow away from this tribute band approach if they expect to become a real player in the genre. There’s more than enough stagnation, malaise and staleness already and a band this talented should do something about it instead of perpetually paying homage to a long dead legend. Wow, Steel Druhm is getting preachy in his dotage.