It’s unusual to come across a true underground heavy metal band from Switzerland (although Sin Starlett leaps to mind), but Frozen Sword fit the bill perfectly. Three years ago, they independently released their debut album, ‘Defenders of Metal.’ Now, after recruiting a pair of new guitarists, Frozen Sword strike back with their self-titled second album. The band proudly and unapologetically wear their influences on their sleeves, those being bands like Manowar, Majesty, Wizard, Doomsword and Sacred Steel. With just seven songs clocking in at 46 minutes, this album is suitably epic, particularly with tracks like “Heartless Warrior” and “The Alpine Steel,” each of which exceeds nine minutes in running time.
The album can readily be commended to aficionados of uncompromising, arcane, underground steel. For an independent release, ‘Frozen Sword’ boasts a fine production that manages to avoid sounding too modern and polished, on the one hand, and too lo-fi, retro and amateurish, on the other. It strikes the right balance. Musically, the band display some fine ideas, as well. Opener “Blessing Way” is an instant highlight, with a relentless marching propulsiveness that calls to mind the likes of Manowar’s “Call to Arms,” with an intense vocal and a huge hook. The gentle, Iron Maiden-style intro to “Heartless Warrior,” gives way to a pounding drum beat and a simple but effective riff that conveys the feel and cadence of marching off to war, then leads into another strong chorus before the tempo accelerates again. Frozen Sword display an excellent sense of dynamics on this tune, with each part seguing effortlessly into the next, despite changes in riffs, tempos and moods along the way. Elsewhere, the midtempo “Shepherd of the Sea” gets locked into an Accept “Princess of the Dawn” type groove that works quite effectively. More generally, from a physical media standpoint, Frozen Sword come up aces. With simple but effective artwork adorning the front and back covers, a booklet printed on heavy but non-glossy stock, and a minimalist white-on-black approach to the interior images and lyrics, the CD packaging sets the right tone for its contents and shows that the band have taken great care with every aspect of this release.
That said, Frozen Sword still have a few areas for improvement. Vocalist Yvan Crettenand sings with admirable heart and sincerity, but his heavily accented English, semi-barked delivery, and limited range (sometimes reminding me of a slightly more tuneful iteration of Deathrow’s Milo) can make for tough sledding in parts, such as during the clean intro to “Heartless Warrior.” The spoken-word narrative at the beginning of “Lelawala” doesn’t work at all, and is further hampered by another patchy clean vocal and guitar bit that struggles to gain traction. Additionally, the quality of the songwriting does dip in spots. These flaws are not insurmountable, and are not unexpected for a self-financed, independent band. Thankfully, Frozen Sword compensate for these rough edges by executing the material with infectious enthusiasm and obvious love and dedication to the genre.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for Teutonic style true metal delivered with clinical precision and utter mastery of the genre, Frozen Sword are not the band for you, at least not yet. But if your heart beats in the underground, you value sincerity and purity over perfection, and you can handle a little grit and dirt and a few shaky moments to go with your stouthearted metal, then ‘Frozen Sword’ is a rewarding and recommended listen. All hail the underground!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~