Wednesday 1 December 2021

Frozen Shield - Ínia (2021)

Country: Spain
Style: Folk/Viking Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 5 Nov 2021
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I listened to this album because it's folk/Viking metal from Barcelona and, if that isn't right up my alley, I don't know what is. However, it's also something else, which is a sort of metal opera that's so theatrical that I actually stopped listening to the album at one point and shifted to YouTube to watch the official music video instead. The longer it runs, the more like a metal opera it becomes and, while I did enjoy that approach, it's not what I liked most about the album.

It's cinematic from the outset, with a symphonic overture to kick us off, appropriately entitled A New Tale is to Begin. If I knew the Lord of the Rings soundtrack better, I might wonder if this piece was lifted from it. It has that Howard Shore sweep to it, but it focuses in really well on the quieter and folkier sections. There's an interlude halfway too, Facing the Gates of Stone, and a glorious enclosure at the end called One Last Page, and, between them, they add up to eleven minutes of immersive instrumental time. Of course, the album runs a generous hour and seven minutes so don't worry, there's lots here to explore, whatever the overarching story.

And I have no clue what that is and I don't have lyrics to hand. All I know is that the first song, The Greatest Journey, is lively Viking metal, while the album gradually shifts more towards folk metal as it goes, though that's floating in the background even at this point. This one is a real highlight. It's bouncy stuff with a harsh voice leading and cheery clean voices in support like a drunken choir. It's up tempo and perky and feels exactly like a bunch of warriors sloshing their steins together, a bevy of buxom wenches on their laps, as they celebrate a forthcoming victory wherever they'll be raiding or conquering tomorrow. A narration midway underlines the cinematic aspect and there's a frantic and joyous folk metal jig soon after it.

So far so good, even if I had to wonder at this point if Frozen Shield have been encapsulating that Viking mindset a little too much, given that they've been around since 2010 but this is their debut album. They put out an EP in 2014 and a single in 2018, none of whose songs appear here, but they suddenly got serious. This is a quality release entirely on the basis of the music alone, but there's a second disc with instrumental versions of everything, three official music videos and another to serve as a lyric video. I have no idea why it took them so long to do this, but I'm happy that they've got round to it now.

If it starts really well, it does lose steam a little as it goes, but not much. There are good songs in the middle of the album, including the frantic title track, which finds an epic singalong vibe by its end, and the delightful Warrior Woman, which is full of nuance, not only through an excellent use of harp to lull us into a false sense of security before the song erupts into motion in a heartbeat. None of these songs let the side down, but none of them are up to The Greatest Journey, the song that defines what this band can do.

And then we get to The Lair of the Mad Magician, which is as batshit insane as the title suggests, a prancing Disney-esque intro transforming into a dark operatic aria. This is the point where I had to shift from audio to video and, while it's a terrible music video, it's as crazy as it needs to be and this song is either going to be your favourite song here or your least favourite.

And, after it's done, the band really dive into the metal opera approach, with a set of songs that I appreciated a lot for their contrasts and instrumental chops. In a Timeless Dream is led by violins, flutes, acoustic guitars and a female voice that I presume belongs to a guest. Whoever it is does a stellar job and this is easily my favourite song here behind The Greatest Journey, even though the two are completely different in almost every way. Canvas of Snow isn't quite as good but it does a lot of the same things in a lot of the same ways, without remaining acoustic throughout.

And that observation is going to stay with me the longest from this album. This band may not have a lot of product to their name thus far, but they're clearly excellent musicians and ambitious ones too, given just how much they throw onto Ínia. Now, let's not wait a decade for another album!

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