Saturday, March 14, 2015
Frosttide - Blood Oath 
It's hard not to accept folk metal's hit or miss status given how protean a genre it could be, with so many bands incorporating it into sturdier sounds that usually revolve around melodic death or black metal. Folk metal's intrinsic hasn't quite been acknowledged as a separate sound dialing its own unique pool of musical elements, but has been consistently favored by bands ranging from Ensiferum to Drudkh. So in essence there isn't really a record or band which I'd cite as the apex of the folk genre, although a few acts like Finntroll come pretty close. Long story short, its obliqueness is what makes new outfits into the field rather hard to categorize or affiliate with other motifs. Hence Finland's Frosttide becomes a rather generic entrant into the folklore derby, with a nice bucolic theme set against an expansive sound that somehow joins the epic formulations of Ensiferum, Wintersun and Turisas in a rustic melting pot of overripe synthesizers and thrusting melodeath rhythms. ''Blood Oath'' chugs at the same kind of folk imagery which the aforementioned bands had already perfected a decade ago, though its instantaneous appeal of 'rural battle metal', campfires, autumn leaves and wintry breezes is for me, as it has always been, a bit hard to ignore.
''Blood Oath'' initiates with the assumption that a little Ensiferum or Wintersun emulation should never go amiss. To wit, the pulpy, synthesizer-induced ''Prologue'' is simultaneously one of the most exciting sonic deliveries of the album and a frolicking number which, I imagine, managed to get quite a few dungeon synth/D&D fans hard against its epic unfolding. ''Blood Oath'' doesn't have a whole lot of tricks up its sleeves, and the primary formula seems to be a rough, headlong barrage of melodic death tremolos and fierce chords playing out next to a fluid current of melody, perhaps redolent of Amorphis, and no matter these Fins are doing, they've always got a barrage of dreamy synthesizers for you. With the vocals at the fore, the band manages to pull off powerfully emitting tracks like the 8-minute ''Gates of Asylum'' which combines all these elements with somewhat Wagnerian overtures plummeting and cascading. The vocals are rabid, but they pose a primary problem: while the variation between harsher growls and folksy anthems is one that I appreciate, the growls never captivated me to the extent that Ensiferum did, and the group shouts were buried under the mix to be heard effectively. Yet despite this the band seems to be on the verge of some tempo mastery; coordinated past-picked sections mold into moving interludes which break out into awesome choruses. So there's plenty of spurious fun to had here.
I also admired the range of the band's folk influences which weren't just confined to ballistic synthesizers/violins but a broader palette of instruments including pianos, eerily pleasing flutes and others which the band members must have all been familiar by now. To be sure, there's enough melody, percussive melodic death metal and metallic coitus running through this record to rectify the removal of the 'pagan' or black metal tag which folk bands are so frequently infatuated. If any distinction must be made within folk bands it should be the division of more atmospheric acts like Arkona, Drudkh, Windir and Moonsorrow, and other, arguably more accessible bands like Frosttide, Ensiferum and Wintersun. But enough digression. ''Frosttide'' does possess the essential elements to be in the latter group, but ''Blood Oath'' is by no means an ambitious sophomore, nor one that sticks to mind even after half a dozen listens. For one thing, I found the rhythm section on this record to be quite lacking, and the blast beat sequences like on the beginnings of ''Traitor Within'' or ''Blood Oath'' felt out of place. There is an enjoyable lead section and the overall coherence of the instruments deserves some praise with a fairly dense spectacle of sounds bursting out at the same time, but I felt myself far more attracted to the synthesizers and aural majesty of the album than its guitars or vocals. By the 5th track I felt these guys were in need of a break, and the superfluous, 11-minute ''New Reign'' did not justify this. And in case you wanted more, there are two bonus tracks? Um, no thanks, I'm good. So clearly, this isn't a record without its faults, and ones, in this this tenuously busy modern metal market, that aren't easy to correct. Nevertheless, if you have something going for 'fairy metal' (but without the female vocals) or just some pastoral, melodic frivolity, have at it.
The Gates of Asylum