Label: Filosofem Records
Date: September 12th, 2023
Don’t get fooled by the cover painting. Take a closer look. He’s not doing what you think he’s doing. At first, I thought it, too. Simultaneously, I saw the most obviously cliché work of depressive art. My heart sank a bit right there, but just as I was about to decline this release for being so unimaginative already on the cover, I took a better look at it.
Now, since I’ve seen a magnificent idea, I kept pondering at whether to take on Frozen Wreath. Cover still depicted depression and the album’s title is very much pointed away from everything I usually look for in black metal. Neither is the depression which annoys me to the bone ever since that explosion of depressively boring bands about a decade ago, which thankfully ended in a couple of years.
What swayed me towards “Mea Culpa” is its origin. Filosofem Records is one of those “keep it in the family” kinds of labels, meaning its purpose is to house the projects its founder, Mr. Roland Neubauer, participates in. And those tend to be very satisfying as of late. So, once that hesitation was behind me, Frozen Wreath could take its place in the stereo.
An issue presented itself right from the start. The opener, title track, opens up to a very flat blast beat drumming. It seemingly comes from nowhere. Springs on a listener and surprises after only a few seconds of nothing but atmospheric keyboards. My guess, though I can’t confirm it, is that these are programmed and therefore very much soulless at the beginning. The situation gets better later on (even though the sound remains a tad plastic throughout), but this beginning can really deter potential listeners before they even get a foot in. These are the moments when a drummer is necessary. If not to perform, then at least as a consultant when forming the drum parts.
Be that as it may, it’s but a glitch in the grand scheme of things. The “leading” part of this duo seems to be Mr. Zoltán Szele, who is responsible for most of “Mea Culpa”. Starting from the mentioned cover picture that surely captivates the mind. His is the music still soundtracking these words I’m writing. To this segment of Frozen Wreath I can’t really find many faults. Other than this drum I pointed out above, of course. Hungarian duo focuses on atmospheric black metal. Leaning on an expected choice of weaponry, this two-piece explores the human sentiments that range from fear and regret, to sadness and despair. They do so twofold.
Musically, slithering through various stages of psychological devastation utilizes diversity (or lack thereof) in rhythm, positioning of keyboards and sampling in the overall soundscape, plus the guitars which are either hypnotically repetitive or coldly melodic.
Vocally (the one department led by Mr. Neubauer here), the band uses the native language, though neatly inserts English translations in the booklet. I guess I cannot fully judge poetry in translation, as it almost certainly sounds better in Hungarian, but from what I’m given here it would seem they are not lazy exercises in rhyming. Not unexpected though, since I’m familiar with the man’s poetry. However, I cannot seem to fit the voice to the particular role. Now, don’t get me wrong here, the voice is awesome, confident, strong and expressive scream dominates. My problem is that I do not hear this desperation, the shrieks, the uncontrolled nerve wrecking shouts at life gone horribly wrong. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that this type of vocal works magic in many black metal bands, but I don’t feel the depression oozing out of it.
One more remark in this aspect of Frozen Wreath is the poem by Mr. Ady Endre. Not only is the recitation a fine addition and blends in with quite a charm, but it adds another side to the capability of the Hungarian group.
Getting back to music, Frozen Wreath steers clear of any suicidal black metal banality. Back in the “heyday” of the genre, it was a real nonsense. All it took was a weak shriek, simple, raw to a point of retardation one-chord riffing and one-sided drumming with as few variations as can be made possible. Thousands of bands misused the simplicity of such approach.
These Hungarians, on the other hand, have no such illusions. Their seven minutes long tracks do go for repetitiveness, when necessary, but usually in only one line, while the others simultaneously wander about. Namely, guitars and keyboards. These switch roles at the helm of Frozen Wreath. Then again, in the fourth track, particularly in the chorus, there’s such a beautiful harmony between them both, which engulfs the vocals as well, making the song a standout of the bunch, as it goes along.
Its follower is a thing of grandeur. Reaching almost for symphonic black metal heights, not unlike mid-era Dimmu Borgir, while otherwise the symphonic element mostly reminds me of Empyrium, for instance. Creative abilities of this duo achieve grand levels at times.
Of course, “Mea Culpa” is not made of pure diamonds. These guys do keep a certain standard which they are unwilling to fall under, but there’s definitely more than enough room to grow. Pieces of this album could do with a bit more upbringing and development. Some more of those memorable passages from the two songs I singled out, for example. The next album would benefit greatly from such creative suggestiveness as on display there. Frozen Wreath proved they’ve got the talent and a clear idea of the path they want to take. They took it with heads held high, now they only need to leave a sturdy footprint on it.