Don’t shoot the messenger, but 2021 will probably suck almost as bad as 2020. If not worse. That’s the bad news out of the way. The good news is that FROZEN SOUL are evoking the remorseless grind of time in the best possible way: by producing utterly crushing death metal that owes a sizeable — and, let’s face it, entirely laudable — debt to BOLT THROWER. If “Crypt of Ice” isn’t exactly what you need to kick off this uncertain year, then you and I are never going to be friends.
There is a fine line between harnessing the spirit of a legendary band and just copying them wholesale. But these Texans have a formidable personality of their own, and even when “Crypt of Ice” sounds bewilderingly familiar, FROZEN SOUL are only ever one perverse riff away from confounding expectations. Meanwhile, both the band’s logo and this record’s artwork point to a strong aesthetic standpoint, eschewing their forebears’ war obsession in favor of grim, quasi-Lovecraft-ian, sub-zero plunges into existential turmoil. As the monstrous opening riffs of the title track spew forth over a scabrous blast, subtly distinctive guitar tones and the shrewd use of cavernous reverb give FROZEN SOUL a sound that somehow echoes the artwork’s icy horrors. When they hit that mid-paced sweet spot and really grind, FROZEN SOUL sound like potential world-beaters. Either way, this band have definitely thought this whole thing through. Pleasingly, they also have the material to back up their well-crafted vision, not to mention an audacious killer-riff strike rate. Feel free to stick a pin into any moment of any song on this album and you will find a riff that makes your eyes roll into the back of head as you headbang in (slightly baked) slow motion.
Whatever it is that makes the best death metal resonate so powerfully with its devotees, FROZEN SOUL have been blessed with more than their fair share. Despite numerous deft but brief detours, “Crypt of Ice” is a near-relentless 40-minute torrent of insanely heavy old-school death metal, with all the warped catchiness and lobotomized groove that such an affiliation entails. Songs like the flailing, wild-eyed “Hand of Vengeance” and the ghostly, split-personality battery of “Beaten to Dust” pack a very contemporary sonic punch, but the filth under this band’s fingernails belongs firmly to the ancient gods. No strangers to breakneck brutality, but stoic adherents to the undeniable truth that slower is heavier, the Texan quintet’s purity of intent is self-evident.
Yes, there are literally hundreds of bands out there playing vaguely similar stuff. But FROZEN SOUL are almost laughably superior to the majority, and “Crypt of Ice” is an obnoxiously powerful and exciting debut: one to be played at maximum volume while the world burns.