I’ve often wondered whether the enduring popularity of the Second Wave sound in black metal is a result of its potential agelessness or a desperate grab at a bygone golden era that many of the genre’s current adherents were too young or late to take part in. As with most quandaries, the best answer probably lies somewhere between the two; while still-excellent acts like Taake are proof that Second Wave black metal can be interesting—even recorded twenty years following the days of Euronymous‘ Helvete record shop—there are a far greater number of traditional bands for whom I can only speculate whether their throwback ‘Norwegian’ approach is sincere, or the manifestation of lazy pseudo-nostalgia. In that sense, I’m still not sure which category Winterfront would best fit into.
Add up the corpse paint-embellished band photos, familiar references to winter, winds, wolves, Paganism and things being generally cold and inhospitable, and Winterfront sound like they might have set out to accomplish fusing the traditional, weather-beaten aesthetics of the Second Wave with the air of (possibly unwitting) self-parody. After all, given how jaded the present generation has become regarding clichés and genres, a band taking so closely after Immortal-variety silliness shouldn’t be approached with at least a small inkling that it might be done in jest. Surely enough, their debut Northwinds is much closer to the ‘ancient battles and mysticism’ type of atmosphere of Immortal’s work than the hazy solipsism and malevolence of the ‘serious’ Second-Wavers.
Winterfront’s songwriting is concise and riff-based; beyond the trademark urgency and scaling leads of Immortal and their like-sounding kin, there is a classic heavy metal tinge to some of the riffs. There were several points while listening to Northwinds that I was even expecting an 80s twin-guitar harmony around the corner. The doomy opening riff to ‘Frozen Throne’ recalls something Candlemass even might have done. This slight infusion of classic riff-making into Winterfront’s black metal is slightly refreshing, but isn’t enough to give the impression that they’re any bit nuanced when approaching the matter of genre. On the topic of riffs, guitarists Sorr and Tertt deliver some pretty impressive performances on Northwinds. Even when the songwriting feels lack-lustre (‘Frozen Throne’, for example, starts off promisingly but cuts off much too soon), Winterfront’s riffs are surprisingly strong. More than likely, it’s the heavy metal edge to the way some of their best riffs are written that gives them the focus to break free of black metal clichés, even if it’s only one idea at a time.
With this kind of cynical overview, it’s understood that Winterfront would have had an almost impossible task making an impactful experience with the limited palette of derivative ingredients they’ve allotted themselves. Indeed, Northwinds feels like the sort of largely derivative black metal I would have expected from their corpse-painted aesthetic alone. Given how so much of Winterfront’s get-up seems condemned to mediocrity, a pleasant surprise comes in the form of great riffs, the likes of which are fairly abundant throughout the course of Northwinds. If for nothing else, Winterfront’s debut is made worthy on that merit.
01) Frozen Throne
02) Beyond the Grave of the Enemy
03) Thrones of Eternal Winter
04) Of Iron and Blood
05) Battle of Ancestors
07) Molitva Svarogu