We’ve all experienced that exciting moment when a non-metal friend has said, “ok, where do I start?” Your mind races as the available options from the 1 million albums you’ve listened to in the last 20 years all pop into your head at once. That same experience, however, can happen with the already converted as they seek advice for where to start with a genre they aren’t particularly familiar with. Do you go with a classic progenitor of the subgenre? Do you just hand them a copy of your personal favorite? Or do you paint with broad brushstrokes and recommend something that hits a lot of the key elements in a more widely representative manner?
Tides kicks off with “Our Chosen Path” which shoots from the hip with a driving riff dripping with atmosphere and a sense of the tumultuous matching the crashing waves of the cover. The primary vocal attack is a burlier one but clean female vocals are subtly blended into various moments throughout. At 2:45 a more driving rock riff enters the fold before the song cuts into clean guitars that are layered with a style that hews closer to the harp than your standard approach. The next minute sees layers upon layers of instrumentation added before the song drops back into blistering speed to close. The song exhibits a strong sense of beauty without getting shimmery.
This is definitely one of those broad brushstrokes albums though and that’s made immediately apparent with “Scattered Shields.” It yields a much darker sound through a mid-tempo assault and even the more introspective moments are dripping with a sense of foreboding. “Scattered Shields” also unleashes the first instance of the more haunted wailing style of vocals that pop their head up throughout the remainder of the album, but their place in the mix varies to support the atmosphere being built.
“Dusk” once again changes up the approach by settling more into a full-on post-metal mode with clean female vocals and echoing guitars. As it progresses, it builds and builds to a deluge of notes. This song is certainly much closer to Clouds Collide than anything you think of with Black Metal but that makes it all the more intriguing.
After one of its prettiest stretches with “Dusk,” “Cataclysm” comes in as one of the heaviest songs to batter the listener in only 5 minutes. The opening has a sped-up The Cure bounce sliced through with a killer down-tuned riff to offset it. The song somehow sounds at once uplifting and crushing. “Of Those Stricken By Fate” isn’t necessarily an interlude but it consists of clean singing and strumming that comes as a welcome dose of calm after the heavy hitter before and the longest song of the album that follows. Despite being the longest song, closer “Cloaks of Valor” starts with blistering speed and wraps in all the elements Freja has leverages so far into one perfectly flowing track that flies by.
As a two-piece, you would think Freja may run into some limitations but they regularly utilize layering and a careful ear for mixing that creates a much more robust experience with headphones. Honestly, that makes it all the better as an introductory album as it forces an attentive ear and further trains the brain for how to best approach the often complex world of atmospheric black metal.
The clean, polished and post elements of Tides will likely turn away those that only seek the blackest, rawest and bloodiest of albums that appear in the darkest recesses of our beloved Ryan’s feature series, but offers a lot to listen to for those unafraid of black metal with a spit polish.
Freja’s Tides is more than capable of serving a dish that will appease the uninitiated while scooping enough juicy morsels to keep long-time diners coming back for more.