The challenge in reviewing a demo is that you’re basically trying to evaluate two different bands: the one on the recording itself, and the one that they’ll one day evolve into. Much more so than full-length recordings, demos seem like Polaroids of a specific moment in time, like one night in a cold rehearsal space in the middle of February. Maybe that Polaroid somehow manages to capture the band as they actually are, or perhaps it catches them at a certain angle or kind of light that makes them look better than they ever have before or will again.
Okay…I might be romanticizing things a bit, but I think the point still stands. Cosmic Winter, the first demo from German trio Arcane Frost, is fifteen minutes of music recorded in their rehearsal space. But how reflective is it of the way the band actually sounds? And will what they do next sound anything like it? I don’t know the answer to either question, but after spending a bit of time with this demo I certainly hope the answer to the second question ends up being yes.
Arcane Frost came to my attention because Cryptic Brood bassist/vocalist Dennis Butzke handles guitars and vocals in the band. Brain Eater, Cryptic Brood’s most recent album, was one of the more pleasant surprises of the first few months of 2017 – it’s an absolutely putrid pile of Autopsy-worshipping death/doom with one of the sickest guitar tones you’ll ever hear. Arcane Frost, however, play black metal, so I was definitely curious to hear Butzke play a different instrument and in a different genre. Would the music be as compelling as Cryptic Brood? Honestly, it’s a bit hard to say - Brain Eater is a really fun record, which is not something anyone really ever says about black metal. But I do think that Arcane Frost probably has the more long-term potential, because on Cosmic Winter they push against the boundaries of their chosen genre in a way that Cryptic Brood probably never will.
Unfortunately, Cosmic Winter starts off with the weakest song on the demo, “Shapeless Essence.” It’s not exactly a bad track per se, but it is some fairly boilerplate Burzum worship – certainly enjoyable for what it is, but not quite as interesting as the other two tracks on the demo. Second track “Gaze Upon the Frozen Shore” also uses the second wave template, but it features some really nice melodic interplay between the bass and guitar, which isn’t very common in this type of back metal, and a bass-heavy extended outro that sounds like something off of the Cure’s Faith. It’s probably the most exciting musical passage on the entire demo. Closer “Cosmic Winter” effectively plays with different tempos, including some borderline doomy sections, that give the track a nice sense of variety. Butzke’s vocals remain impressive throughout as he employs a variety of shrieks, rasps, and even the occasional growl.
So in terms of Arcane Frost’s overall potential, I’m pretty excited by what I’m hearing on Cosmic Winter. Hopefully they continue to branch out from their second wave influences like they do on “Gaze Upon the Frozen Shore,” because that’s where they seem to be at their best. I will definitely be curious to hear what they do next.
Cosmic Winter is now available both digitally and on limited edition, hand-numbered cassettes via Arcane Frost’s Bandcamp page.