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.