Here's another prog rock album from Norway because, if I have an addiction nowadays, it that. It's heavier than the others that I've been wowing over, because it often crosses that invisible border into prog metal, but in a commercial fashion. The more I repeat listened to this album, the more it felt like Frostbite are aiming at being Dream Theater lite, which may or may not be a good idea.
The six members all are clearly adept technically but none of them shows off that much or aims at flashy demonstrations of their skills. The band's sound isn't as dense and they keep instrumental workouts far less frequent. However, they find many of the same grooves and they have a lot more melodies. It's like they listened to Distance Over Time in 2019 and felt the same way I did, that the technical wizardry is all well and good, but where are the hooks? I just wrote about it, but they put an album together that's full of the hooks that Dream Theater weren't writing.
The question is whether this approach is going to work for them. Fans of Dream Theater do like an instrumental workout and many of them like them all the more when they're technically brilliant to the degree that most bands wouldn't even be able to cover them. Those fans are going to hear this and wonder why there are so few notes, even as the melodies and hooks seep into their bones. On the flipside of that, fans of straight ahead of rock who are used to hooks like these may baulk a little at how complex and progressive the songs are. Is there a place in the middle for a band like Frostbite? Maybe and maybe not. I hope so, because I like this.
I also like the way that they dance back and forth across the rock/metal boundary. Superior opens up in more prog metal style, while Ice Cold feels more like prog rock, albeit lively prog rock with a commercial vocal and a sound that's never too far from becoming metal. As the album run on, it's not too hard to see that there are obvious commonalities between many of the songs. Many kick off with piano, then grow through commercial rock sections to more metal guitar solos and often slightly heavier and more imaginative sections to wrap up. Fear My Name and Holy Be the One do that at the heart of the album and they're far from alone, even if the purer Perfect Storm may be be the best song here.
There are a couple of songs that stand apart from this approach. One is the closer, Finding Home, which is the epic of the album. These are generally shorter songs, when you think Dream Theater lengths at least. Two finish in under four minutes and another two in under five. Three stretch to under six and there's another under seven, but Finding Home runs past ten, mostly because of an impressive and mostly instrumental prog midsection. It doesn't change the formula much in other ways but I do appreciate that midsection.
The other is a peach of an instrumental that hints at one direction Frostbite may take more in the future. It's Crepitu, an odd name, given that I'm only seeing a couple of potential inspirations for it. One is that Crepitus was the Roman god of flatulence, which seems unlikely, and the other is a crepitus, a medical condition that involves cracking or popping sounds under the skin and joints. I don't know if that fits either, given that this is emphatically a metal take on classical music in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.
It's flashy but not as much as Yngwie J. Malmsteen would make it; it's more in the style of Accept, when they cover classical standards. However, I'm thinking that, even if it's nodding knowingly to certain Bach pieces, it's an original creation. I like it a lot, whether early on when it's driven by a lively guitar or late on when the keyboards get frantic. I love the tone of both those instruments and especially the latter, which seems to only play one chord at a time, switching firmly to another each time but with increasing speed.
And so I wonder where Frostbite are going to move musically. It seems like they may already have moved away from an anthemic hard rock sound into the Dream Theater lite style I'm hearing here. I wonder if they're going to expand the instrumental sections further, even if they don't want to go far away from hook-driven commercial rock/metal. This is only their debut album, so there's much opportunity for growth. I look forward to hearing their follow up. Maybe by that point, I'll find out who's actually in the band.