Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Eastern Front - Blood On Snow (2010)

Eastern Front [ MySpace | Facebook ]
Blood On Snow

With a black and white photo of a World War II-era tank adorning the cover of their debut album Blood On Snow, song titles like "Unleash the Panzer Division" and "Battle of Smolensk", and promo photos in which the band members sport full-on corpse paint, it's very easy to make the mistake of dismissing Eastern Front as one of hundreds of war-themed Marduk clones. The truth is quite the contrary, as this relatively new band (formed in 2006) hails from the United Kingdom and possesses an atmospheric sound more akin to that of Agalloch than the skin-peeling fury of bands like Impaled Nazarene and the aforementioned Marduk.

The lyrics to the songs on Blood On Snow do in fact derive from the band members' interest in World War II and the effects the conflict had on the European dynamic, specifically the 1941 struggle for the (then) Soviet Union. All is not about war for war's sake, however, with primary songwriters Nagant (vocals) and Holocaust (guitar) focused on conveying the horrors and deprivations of battle from the soldiers' perspectives. The result is a combination of fury and finesse, as vicious black metal shares time with traditional metal riffing and even post-rock guitar effects.

Black metal is the pulsating heart of Eastern Front's sound, however, with every song firmly entrenched in tremolo riffing, hypersonic blastbeats, and sickening shrieks. Opening with the sound of - if I'm not mistaken - Katyusha rocket launchers, Blood On Snow starts as one would expect a black metal album to start, though by the end of "Stalinorgel" the bass lines of Destroyer bubble to the surface of the mix and the guitar tone takes on some serious atmosphere. The album holds interest through strong songwriting, with sensible tempo changes and layered influences breaking up the tedium of the more extreme moments. The sorrowful theme riff that propels the first half of the title track, for example, gives way to a latter half of doom-inspired groove that is complimented by clean spoken-word and grind vocals to go along with the requisite shrieks and howls. Nagant shows his versatility throughout the course of the album, though he's obviously more comfortable burning ears with his straightforward blackened style.

While Blood On Snow was intriguing from start to finish, I found that "Where Warriors Once Fell" stood out from the rest of the songs as being the most experimental of the lot. The track opens with a haunting Russian folk melody soon followed by acoustic guitars and sampled effects. The ethereal leads, traditional riffs, and significant bass presence pull this track in a direction most like that taken by bands such as Agalloch and Fen. The black 'n' roll of "At The Gates Of Moscow" and the imagery of "Dvenadtzat Kilometrov Ot Moskvy" (literally "Twelve Kilometers from Moscow") also stand apart from the rest, but overall Blood On Snow is quite a cohesive effort.

For a debut album, particularly in the crowded black metal genre, Blood On Snow has enough variety and quality songmanship to claw ahead of pack. Although not groundbreaking, since Eastern Front's stylistic blend has been heard before, this album is nevertheless recommended for extreme metal fans who want their brutality served up with a side of class.

Track Listing
2Battle Of Smolensk5:28
3Blood On Snow8:45
4Unleash The Panzer Division4:25
6Dvenadtzat Kilometrov Ot Moskvy3:54
7At The Gates Of Moscow7:14
8Where Warriors Once Fell9:30
Total Runtime51:22

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