‘Black Frost’ is a seafaring term referring to when the water in the air descends upon a ship, clouding visibility and freezing to its masts, destabilizing the vessel and disorienting its inhabitants. The metaphor is present in the lyrical content of Nailed to Obscurity’s new album, yet the fog is not felt; it is only heard.
Formed in 2005, Nailed to Obscurity, hailing from the small town of Esens, Germany, have been releasing albums of heavy and melodic metal since 2007. Black Frost is their latest release and fourth full length, out January 11 on the German label Nuclear Blast. Improving upon their style of driving riffs, chugging palm mutes, varying vocal styles, and both quiet and triumphant lead guitar melodies, Black Frost is an eventful and engaging record that falls into predictable patterns and motifs.
The title track begins the album with the boom of low toms as the drummer creates a complex, tribal beat that leads into a bass riff, purposeful guitar feedback, and barely audible chants. A pretty guitar riff begins low in the mix under clean vocals that eventually evolve into the band’s characteristic low growls as the song picks up. I’m surprised by the move,; it’s confident, unexpected, but actually a bit underwhelming.
The introduction is a slow burn that builds and changes for nearly three minutes before relenting to a quiet interlude with whispers that recall post-metal legends Agalloch. The driving, building riffs return and then ring out to a beautifully picked guitar riff. This quiet/loud dynamic, which was in many ways pioneered by The Pixies, is not commonly used in metal but is implemented throughout Black Frost. Sometimes it leads to success, and other times it feels obligatory, like the band thought it would be a good idea to drastically change the pace for no particular reason.
Of the dynamics that unfold on this record, I care for the clean vocals the least, especially the verses on “Tears of the Eyeless” and “The Aberrant Host.” While the guitar riffs are always well-written, cycling through heavy, technical, and beautiful riffs, they rarely surprise me. Instead what I am really impressed by are the members of the rhythm section. The bass is loud in the mix, providing undertones and accents that are curiously satisfying. The drummer hits hard and consistently, as if he never waivers or becomes fatigued. This is likely due to the fact that the band composes together after the guitarists write the main riffs, a style of songwriting that has not only lead to a reputation as a great live band, it creates some pretty solid performances on this record.
However, it does lead to some songwriting imperfections. There isn’t much deep thought put into why each part stops and a new part begins; it seems like the band relies on basic structures. While the album feels like a linear narrative, riffs are repeated where they could have been cut out or changed. The guitar intros and whispered interludes feel predictable. Although the content of the parts and varied tempos are satisfying, the repetition of periodic style choices have the songs blending together in my mind.
By far my favorite song from Black Frost is the final track, “Road to Perdition,” which provides flashes of technical death metal, chugging double bass and palm mutes, and the most intriguing songwriting on the record. It avoids the quiet/loud dynamic that becomes tired by the end of Black Frost, hitting harder than any other song. I absolutely love the double bass during the bridge guitar solo.
While only really disliking the clean vocals, Black Frost isn’t a record to return to again and again. The boomingly intricate drums, solidly textured bass, slick guitar tones, and growling vocals are interesting and well-performed, but, despite the periodic tempo changes, the album didn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Conceptually, the content is realized, but I don’t feel the uncertainty of what its title implies. While the name of the band may be negatively satirizing a devotion to the abstract, the theme of Black Frost suggests obscure lack of clarity and uncertainty. There is a contradiction here; the listener is instead confronted by sometimes-heavy-yet-melodically-accessible metal that satisfies in the moment, but only on the surface level.