Byfrost - _Black Earth_
(Painkiller Records, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
Bergen, Norway, is perhaps one of the most alluring and captivating cities in all of Europe. I've had the pleasure of visiting Bergen four times in the last five years (my wife is a visiting scholar / research at the University of Bergen). As I write this review, I can actually see the mighty Mount Fløyen right out side our apartment window -- what a sight. The morning fog ("taake" or "tåke" as it's commonly written for weather forecasts), is slowly lifting, and revealing the rounded and undulating silhouette of one of the most beautiful and harsh landscapes I've had the pleasure of hiking through. I can really see why Bergen is such a hot-bed for creative metal bands like Enslaved, Taake, Helheim, Galar, Borknagar, Burzum (now relocated to Bø), Immortal, Gorgoroth, and the list goes on. Byfrost, one of the newer bands to emerge from the well-established metal scene here in Bergen, is definitely no exception when it comes to the creative force and output of the aforesaid bands.

To put it simply, _Black Earth_ is a great album through and through. Even the cover artwork by Christian Sloan Hall is fantastic. It reminds me of Dark Funeral's _Secrets of the Black Arts_ (great cover thanks to Necrolord, not such a great album, though). With respect to the music, _Black Earth_ is more blackened thrash than pure black metal; and, as such, we get nothing but great riffs, tight drumming, and no keyboards. The album was recorded at Conclave and Earshot studios, and was produced by Herbrand Larsen of Enslaved and Byfrost. As such, the guitar tone is incisive and sharp, and the drum sound is clear and punchy. The only downside is that the bass guitar isn't as audible as I'd like it to be, but this is a minor criticism.

In terms of immediate comparisons, I'm reminded somewhat of early era Coroner, and, to a certain extent, the slower songs from Ravenous' _Book of Covetous Souls_ album from 1991 (this is great Austrian thrash if you haven't already heard it). Traces of influence from Immortal can be found, too (especially from the _At the Heart of Winter_ album); however, after a few listens, anyone can see that Byfrost have an identity all their own. Sure, the vocals are vaguely redolent of Abbath's idiosyncratically croupous rasp (I find Kenneth Harm's voice a little higher and less monotone), but, again, the music seems more like a combination of good old '80s thrash accented with harsh, blackened vocals.

The song structures on _Black Earth_ are, for the most part, mid-paced, occasionally punctuated with brief passages of speed -- though you won't find many hyper-speed blast-beats here (save for the mid-point of the album's title track, "Black Earth"). An aspect I really like about this album are the solos: they're catchy, melodic, and infuse the music with an added element of variation. Worth mentioning is the fact that Ice Dale (guitars) from Enslaved lends his skills on the longest track of the album, called "Desire", clocking in at over six minutes. As well, a huge surprise to me on this album was the final track, "Skull of God", a four-minute instrumental. The song starts out with slow, plodding drumming and a contemplative riff which instills a strange sense of aimless emptiness in the listener. After the first minute, this absolutely amazing Anathema-esque feedback weaves its way in and out, not unlike something from the feedback that opens up each song on _Pentecost III_. A very brief acoustic guitar solo makes its appearance, which then yields to a black metal sounding riff; and then, coming full circle, this gives way to the same contemplative riff that opened the song -- what a great way to end an album.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/byfrostmetal

(article published 6/13/2010)


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