For the most part, Bergen, Norway’s Byfrost plays marching songs and battle music for orcs. There are exceptions, which we’ll come to, but their recently released debut album Black Earth is mainly about the inexorable stomp, the headlong charge, the baring of oily teeth, the spiked maces held high. Or at least, those are the images that come to our orc-brained minds as we listen to this riff-tastic new release.
Byfrost is a three-piece band, and as befits this stripped-down ensemble, the music is bare-boned and primal. It lives and dies by the almighty riff, and Black Earth is loaded with them, from both guitar and bass. The pacing and the mood change within the album, but those dissonant hammerblows are a constant.
From the blackened thrash of “Horns to the Sky” and “Wings of the Angel of Death” to the lurching, stutter-stepped march of the title track, to the doom-influenced interlude within “Desire,” Byfrost builds their songs in a verse-chorus-verse structure around deceptively simple chords and rhythms, and then propels them forward in massively powerful repeating loops. The hooks are so sharp and deep that it’s easy to get caught up by them.
The remorseless martial stomp of the music is relieved by guitar solos that vary from soulful arpeggios to heated gouts of pure shred and by down-shifted variations in the pacing. But throughout is the sensation of being shaken like a rag doll by giant, clawed hands in time to a hellish beat. (more after the jump, including some tracks to stream . . .)
Kenneth Harms (“HeavyHarms”) provides the cracked-ice vocals that give the music a blackened flavor, in addition to serving up all those awesome guitar riffs. Roy Pettersen (“R.I.P.Meister”) has to shine on bass, because in this stripped-down 3-piece approach to the music, it’s prominent in the mix — and shine he does.
Mads Lilletvedt (“Alkolust”) mainly resists whatever temptation there might have been to get flashy on the drums — though it’s clear he’s certainly capable of percussive pyrotechnics — and instead creates a solid anchoring for those riffs. The fused blast-beats and double-bass so strongly associated with traditional black-metal are mostly absent on Black Earth, but Lilletvedt plays with tremendous feel for the songs. For the particular design of this music, he has just the right touch.
There’s one guest artist on the album — Arve Isdal (“Ice Dale” of Enslaved fame) — and he spices up “Desire” with an attention-grabbing guitar contribution.
Byfrost has drawn comparisons with Immortal, but to our ears, Black Earth is much more a slab of mid-tempo, blackened death metal. We’re reminded more of bands like Grave and Asphyx than Immortal and other blackened thrash bands with which Byfrost is being compared — but hey, it’s all good company, and in truth, Byfrost doesn’t sound exactly like any of the bands we’ve mentioned.
We said at the outset that Black Earth is not completely devoted to orcish stomps, and the biggest departure, which happens to be the song that’s gotten itself most securely stuck in our heads, is the closing track, “Skull of God”. It’s a purely instrumental song played at a stately pace and filled with dense, minor-chord melody. It features acoustic guitar, simple, pounding drum fills, and almost psychedelic-sounding guitar leads, until the double-bass kicks in near the end and the music rises into a mournful anthem. It’s a bleak, but extremely cool finish to the album.
Black Earth was released by a Dutch label called Painkiller Records and it’s available for download at iTunes and Amazon. The beautiful album cover is by Christian Sloan Hall (who has also created artwork for Dimmu Borgir, Testament, and Slayer, among others).
So you can check out the music, here’s a widget that will stream two songs from Black Earth, but we also can’t resist putting up a link for “Skull of God” right after the widget. Bang yo’ head.
Here’s the link for that closing instrumental:
P.S. The last time we checked, Terrorizer was making the entirety of Black Earth available for streaming at this location.
This blog is going to make me go broke with all the awesome tunes you dig up.
This is the kind of non-clean singing that I like, something you can actually (mostly) understand. Not that there’s anything wrong with the gutteral grows, howls, screeches, hissing or whatever that is somewhere in incomprehensible-land that other bands have. But this works best for me. I dunno why, but I like being able to understand the lyrics without having to break out the liner notes (if I have a physical copy) or look online to see if I can dig them up somewhere.
The opening for “Desire” is awesome, as is the rest of the song. And yeah, “Skull Of God” sounds excellent; even without hearing the whole thing (I’ll check that Terrorizer link tonight when I have a bit more time to devote to tunes online) it sounds like an album closer song. And a very good one at that.
Even without two guitars going, Byfrost seems to have crafted a sound that makes it easy to forget that fact, although Arve Isdal’s addition to “Desire” (I assume that’s what I’m hearing in the middle) is a nice bonus. This is why you need a competent bassist folks, and why you shouldn’t let his/her part(s) get buried in the mix.
I actually meant to mention in the post that HeavyHarms’ vocals were decipherable, and then forgot. Cool to hear him ringing out “Horns to the sky!” and other “battle cries” throughout the album. And you hit another thing I like about this kind of 3-piece music: the bass isn’t hiding in the background. It’s so much more upfront than on lots of extreme metal albums, and really holds its own on this one.
Listening to “Skull Of God” again… man, this is awesome as fuck all. This album’s going up a few notches on the “to get” list. From the acoustic part on, I started getting a chill down my back. Which is a good thing.
Yeah, absolutely! I’m really getting hammered by everything on this album, but there’s something about that instrumental. A divergence from everything else, but it really stays with me.
I’d like to second ElvisShotJFK.
That was fucking awesome. That’s all that needs to be said. Everything is just superfluous.
I knew what you meant, and you’re right. Glad you dudes are liking it as much as I am.
Just got this one online too.
Rather enjoying Byfrost! First time I’ve heard of them.
However due to endless top 10 lists I have found myself compelled to listen The Crown’s Doomsday King……………………over and over and over again, if this beast doesn’t stop kicking my arse I’m not gonna be able to sit down due to botty bruising! Although I think I may deserve it for leaving to so long to getting around to listening to it.
That arse-kicking is to be expected. Doomsday King is amazing. This was a good year for new releases by Swedish death-metal bands who haven’t been heard from in too long (Evocation and Desultory, to name two more in addition to The Crown).