Frozen Ocean - The Dyson Swarm - (8.5/10)
Published on February 3, 2014
Frozen Ocean is a rather eclectic, atmospheric black metal and ambient act hailing from Moscow. Solely performed by the ever-busy Vaarwel, the first quarter of 2014 sees the release of Frozen Ocean’s eighth full length album since forming in 2005, entitled The Dyson Swarm. Frozen Ocean has released albums from all over the spectrum, including punk-infused black metal on Likegyldig Raseri and Natt Over Meg, ambient drone on A Perfect Solitude and electronic styling on Trollvinter. While each album tends to have a sound and niche of its own, one thing links the entirety of the Frozen Ocean back catalog: it is all thoroughly atmospheric in some way, shape or form.
The Dyson Swarm keeps this atmospheric streak in form, but with a different approach before. A lot of Frozen Ocean’s previous albums deal with dark subject matter such isolation, winter and death, but the newest addition to the catalog shows Vaarwel focusing on the cosmos. Promoted as a narration regarding close and outer space and humanity’s place within it, The Dyson Swarm takes you on a journey to and through the vast and endless stars. It’s actually a rather fitting description, as this album plays out more like a soundtrack to some type of space adventure video game than a standard music album, as the moods wax and wane throughout your journey to the stars and back.
While this type of transformation from black metal to ambient to electronica isn’t completely without precedence, I mean look at the back catalog of Ulver and Senmuth for example, but there’s usually some cues or inklings given that a shift is in order. The Dyson Swarm serves as Vaarwel’s determined statement that he can play whatever music he wants to whenever he wants to. Frozen Ocean’s journey into the cosmos takes cues from the electronic instrumentation of Perdition City era Ulver, the rhythmic trip-hop styed percussion of Netra’s Mélancolie urbaine and the ethnic ambient nature of Senmuth’s ever growing discography. Sounds like quite the trip, right?
The entire album plays like a soundtrack, with plenty of airy sightseeing in the form of lighter electronic drum beats juxtaposed between far reaching synths that sound eerily similar to Ulver’s grand masterpiece Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (the climbing nature on “A Song of Liberty” to be exact). “Stout Great Wall” shows how Vaarwel seamlessly incorporates a flowing lead guitar pattern with a melodic synth pattern, while the album’s namesake, “The Dyson Swarm”, shows off a trippy drum pattern while melodic guitars and flourishing keyboards accent a raspy and distant vocal line. “Exoplanet (HD 85512 b)” shows some distorted, industrialized guitar chords alongside a melodic, circling synth pattern which builds into some ethnic ambient instrumentation, calling to mind Senmuth’s early albums. The vocals on The Dyson Swarm are few and far between, offering the aforementioned raspy, distant screams as well as some deeper, cavernous bellows and mid-range clean vocals. Because the album plays like a soundtrack, the vocals fly past without too much attention being drawn to them.
The album culminates in the most impressive track on the album, “UDFj-39546284”, which closes the album by bringing in all of the elements that were present during the journey. It’s almost as if your heading right for the heart of a supernova; tense yet with a sense of wonder and amazement. While this is far removed from Frozen Ocean’s black metal and drone albums, this still fits into the discography like a glove. This is an atmospheric journey into the cosmos for those with an open mind; for fans of Ulver, Senmuth and Netra. Trippy, cosmic and moving music from one hell of a busy Russian…