Black Earth, the 2010 debut album from Bergen, Norway’s Byfrost, was one of my favorite albums of last year (reviewed here). The song “Desire” from that album was the first song we named to our list of 2010’s Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs. One year has passed since the release of Black Earth, and Byfrost is back with their second album, Of Death. No sophomore jinx here — Byfrost have stretched their wings (giant, scaly, and clawed, no doubt) to produce an album that’s at least the equal of their killer debut.
Two albums into their discography, Byfrost have already established a signature sound — the kind of distinctive musical identity that makes the music of bands like Amon Amarth and Behemoth so immediately recognizable. Like those bands, Byfrost has created music that’s “accessible” without losing the qualities that also make it heavy, dark, and menacing. Of course, Byfrost hasn’t yet taken the world by storm, as those bands have, but with time, persistence, and a bit of luck, their audience will surely continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
Byfrost is a three-man band, and their songwriting, for the most part, is designed to be played by only three instruments. As you might expect, the music has a primal, stripped-down quality, but the relative simplicity of the songs is deceptive. All three musicians are superb at what they do, and their execution is super-tight. Weaving through the truly massive riffs and skull-crushing drums are a variety of grim melodies that sink their hooks deeply into your memory. On top of that, the musical variety of the eight songs on the album makes it worth hearing from start to finish and a fucking blast to come back to for repeat listening.
Still less than six months into 2011, and I’ve already heard what will no doubt be on my short list of personal favorites when the year closes. (more after the jump, including a song . . .)
Much of that “accessible” quality I mentioned earlier derives from the truly thunderous low end created by bassist Roy Pettersen (R.I.P.Meister) and and drummer Mads Liletvedt (Alkolust, who also drums for Hellish Outcast). They are masters of the stomping march and the full-on, pounding onslaught, and they work together beautifully. Together with the riffing of guitarist/vocalist Kenneth Harms (HeavyHarms), they create one irresistible rhythm after another. At a time when blurring speed and acrobatic technicality are all the rage in metal, there’s something refreshing about the primal, gargantuan beat of this band. Only full paralysis could prevent you from going into full headbang mode when these dudes start rolling.
But that’s not to say that Byfrost isn’t capable of turning on the jets. Opening track “May the Dead Rise” and “Full Force Rage” are fast-paced offerings of blackened thrash — still full of monstrous (albeit accelerated) riffing, but augmented by a swarming guitar lead in the former and a burst of molten guitar shred in the latter, along with melodic chords that alter the emotional effect of the songs at just the right moments.
I mentioned the wonderful variety of music on the album, and so the furious opening track is followed by the sound of rain and grim guitar chords as the slower-paced “Eye for An Eye” begins. It’s a stomping march with a melodic chorus, grinding tremolo chords, and vocals that include bleak, spoken words and an evil chant of the song title at the end. “Buried Alive” is another mid-paced song that’s crushingly heavy and brooding, with especially riveting drumwork from Alkolust and a HeavyHarms guitar solo that scalds and moans.
The album’s title track is built around a catchy, slightly off-kilter, and thoroughly ghoulish rhythm, and around that rhythmic core, you get a flashy bass line rising in the mix, vicious tremolo riffing, and nail-gunner drumming. After the previously mentioned thrash attack of “Full Force Rage”, “Shadow of Fear” is a change of pace. Big, pounding drums and ringing guitar chords pave the way for skittering, jabbing riffs and another dark, catchy melody.
Then comes “Sorgh”, and it’s a real surprise. Byfrost did something like this on Black Earth, with the closing song “Skull of God” — a stately instrumental track that included acoustic guitar, dense melodies, and simple pounding drums. Alkolust sits out “Sorgh” altogether — no drums at all. But it’s also slow and largely instrumental — all reverberating guitar chords and echoing bass notes, with what sounds like a synthesizer adding ambient notes as the song develops. There are vocals on “Sorgh”, of a sort — the repeated, reverberating intonation of words and phrases, and nothing more. The somber music achieves a near-hypnotic effect, and I found it thoroughly absorbing despite its simplicity.
Then comes the closer – “All Gods Are Gone”. In its structure and melody, it reminds me of “Desire” from the debut. It erupts in a fury of attacking drumbeats, hammering bass, and swarming guitar. HeavyHarms starts to howl as the riffs begin to jab and skitter. Another dark core of melody emerges (enhanced by a wordless, clean-voiced chorus), and then almost halfway through, the pace of the song drops dramatically into a funereal lurch that’s full of doom and dread.
As you may have already gathered from this review, Byfrost isn’t easy to classify within the genres of metal. The black-metal traditions of their homeland are certainly an important influence, evident in HeavyHarms’ distinctive mid-range howls (which are an important part of what makes Byfrost’s music so recognizable), as well as in other ways. But the headbanging rhythms of old-school thrash, the melodies of Maiden-esque heavy metal, and the heavy rock beats of black ‘n’ roll are also in the mix.
Regardless of classification, Of Death is full of win. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite song from the album, but this one is on the short list. Limber up your neck, cuz you’re about to get a workout:[audio:http://ncs.fileburst.com/03_BYFROST-Of_Death-Buried_Alive.mp3|titles=Byfrost – Buried Alive]
Once again, Byfrost turned to Herbrand Larsen of Enslaved to produce the album, along with co-producer Ice Dale (also from Enslaved, of course), and it sounds fucking great. Larsen also makes a guest appearance on two tracks. As he did on Black Earth, Christian Sloan Hall has also created another eye-catching piece of cover art.
Horns to the fucking sky!