Written by Kep
Frosk – Stone Prison
> Black metal
> Massachusetts, US
> Releasing February 24
Well, would you look at that: Witcher-themed black metal outfit Hekseblad is already at the point in their career where the members start branching off into individual solo projects. You know the classic underground success story routine: demo, a couple impressive EPs, some tasty splits, hints of a full-length in the works, then BAM. Solo projects out of nowhere while we’re all on pins and needles waiting for the LP. And so while Bruxa is off launching an intriguing dungeon synth career (listen to Witch’s Amulet, by the way, it’s killer!) Frosk is delivering us Stone Prison, the first installment of his eponymous one-man black metal project.
It’s an alluring blend of lo-fi kvlt aesthetic, too, not some simple low-effort Darkthrone clone. The listen is a brisk one—21 minutes across seven tracks—but Frosk busies himself with throwing several ideas and styles at the listener in that short time. There are touches of dungeon synth and dark ambient, bell tones, romantic piano melodies a la Këkht Aräkh, DSBM wails and theatrical spoken word to go along with the black metal screams, and a host of chugga chuggas, power chords, and doomy vibes that pop out from the staple tremolo riffs. It’s not so eclectic that it feels unfocused, though; Stone Prison feels like a decently tight package overall.
Frosk shows a real talent for melding his musical influences, and does some truly wonderful stuff in his three instrumental tracks, the first of which really sets the mood for the record as a whole. The sweet, soulful piano melody of “Doleful Overture” gives some strong Pale Swordsman vibes, but then it goes somewhere else, changing to an electronic keyboard tone and slowly adding a warm layer of synth behind that eventually pushes the original melody to the background. There’s an intensity that arises as it progresses, indicating that this release won’t be content with mere moments; it’s interested in taking its ideas and going places musically.
The title track, an interlude, is a fascinating little piece as well, using eerie bells and the gothic touch of backing organ to conjure thoughts of moldering headstones in a graveyard, haunting and just dissonant enough to be disconcerting. And closer “Frosk’s Lullaby” has a bit of Old Nick flavor, with its sweet melody delivered with a silly squeaking tone that’s equal parts tender and manic. It’s a demented but dulcet little thing that’s a perfect bookend for the release.
There’s such a variety in the full songs, too, even within the individual tracks. For example, “Absence of Hope” leans into a triumphant trumpet-like synth melody at its opening, embracing that oddball side again, before dropping into a slow 4/4 with ringing power chords and snarled vocals. Then when begins to fly toward its breathless conclusion it does so by building on thick, tasty trills added to that riff, careening headlong with blasts and furor before finishing again with stately power chords. It’s a very different experience than the following song, “A Leaking Soul”, which stands as the most straightforward traditional black metal track here, with its vicious vocals and a scything melodic riff that pays homage to the Swedes. These relatively brief songs cover a lot of ground, is the point, and those two are less wide-ranging than lead single “Excoriation” and penultimate track “Gargoyles Anguish”, both of which run a wide gamut of approaches and sounds. “Gargoyles” is probably my favorite track, and has some outstanding catchy riffs in its back half that turn and lazily burn in place, creating a slowly swirling haze of violent darkness.
The production is raw and grimy by design, of course, so if you’re looking for that clean modern black metal sound then look elsewhere (but you’d be foolish to see that cover art and think it was anything other than trve kvlt production value). The guitars have a satisfying buzz to them but with a decently thick tone, so the mix doesn’t quite have that minimalistic emptiness to it that you might expect, and the bass is actually quite warm and substantial. I appreciated the mastering as well, which did a good job of balancing the volume levels of the simpler instrumental tracks against the full songs. Frosk self-recorded and produced the record, and it’s worth noting that the production overall here is better suited to the music than in a good chunk of one-person projects, so good on him.
I do feel like there are moments where the tracks could be stretched out a bit; sometimes there are cool musical ideas that crop up and disappear over the course of a quick passage, never to return, and it would be nice to hear them show back up at some point. Similarly, I found myself wanting certain riffs to stick around a bit longer; the closing/fadeout riff of “Excoriation”, for example, is a meaty chug-based beast that I really dug, but the fadeout starts on only the third repetition and it’s gone before there’s time to really appreciate it. These are good problems to have, though, at least in my opinion.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Call it a Hekseblad side project if you want, but Stone Prison is a commendable first outing for Frosk as a solo artist and seems like it could have legs of its own. There’s plenty to grab your interest here, and it’s put together in a way that’s engaging instead of messy. If the rawer side and more theatrical aspects of black metal appeal to you, make sure you check this one out.