Artist: Frequency Drift
Album Title: Letters To Maro
Label: Gentle Art Of Music/Soulfood
Date Of Release: 13 April 2018
I think, finally, I may have got to the end of my backlog of albums released on 13th April this year. And what a way to finish. This is a rather unique and captivating album from yet another band that, until now, had not found their way into my life. It feels almost inconceivable that this is the case, but, in a number of ways, it is to my advantage that I had not heard this band before. Allow me to explain why:
Frequency Drift are a German progressive band, straddling many subgenres within their overall sound. ‘Letters To Maro’ is the eighth release from the band, who came to life in the early-mid noughties, courtesy of classically-trained keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Andreas Hack. And it is, by all accounts something of a departure stylistically from what has gone before. I’m led to believe that the previous outing, 2016’s ‘Last’ was a much more guitar-driven beast than what I’m confronted with here. Not only that, but the band also welcome a brand new lead vocalist for ‘Letters to Maro’. Out has gone Melanie Mau, to be replaced by Irini Alexia.
I can’t comment on the merits of Mau, but what I can say is that I really adore the performance of Irini Alexia on this record. With a classical operatic background, hers is an impressive voice without doubt. Importantly though, her tone and delivery are the perfect fit for the music on ‘Letters To Maro’, an album that has dialled down the guitars and dialled up the keyboards. In fact, there’s a demonstrable lush, cinematic vibe to this record, not to mention a smoothness and dreamy quality that makes it such a delight to listen to. It means that their simple self-applied tag of ‘cinematic music’ is very hard to argue with.
Nevertheless, the music retains a rock framework with the guitars, drums and bass taking their opportunity to pepper the record with their personal touches. In particular, the track ‘Nine’ is one of the most urgent pieces on ‘Letters to Maro’, allowing the guitar to have some bite and the bass to come rumbling to the fore in the latter stages to great effect.
For me however, the best thing about ‘Letters To Maro’ is the way in which it is so comfortable with experimentation. Not only do you hear the rich notes of the electric harp courtesy of Nerissa Schwarz, but the album is littered with strange electronic sounds and samples, loads of different atmospheric textures and plenty of interesting song structures. The deep and absorbing cinematic feel looms large to the point where you honestly feel like you’ve stumbled into an elaborate film score. In addition, I hear a demonstrable Eastern, almost Oriental, vibe on occasion, something that’s not altogether surprising given the album cover artwork and accompanying music videos. More surprisingly, at other times, there’s a sense of pastoral English progressive rock about the music too, particularly in some of the gentle instrumental passages. Whether the latter was deliberate or not, there’s no doubt that the juxtaposition works and works very well indeed.
What also draws me in to this record is the oft-striking dichotomy between light and dark. In a heartbeat, a song can move from being airy and upbeat, to being dark and strangely unsettling, almost foreboding in tone. Take the opening title track for example – the song is wistful and beautiful in a fragile manner to begin with, but quick as a flash, it becomes ominous and disturbing. I wasn’t sure if I liked the song to begin with, especially when Alexia delivers an initially jarring and off-kilter descending vocal line. But it grows, to the point where the quirkiness becomes endearing. Plus, the rich, gorgeous instrumental outro is so splendid that you’d forgive almost anything that precedes it.
The electric harp makes a big impact on the follow-up, ‘Underground’, as do plenty of other instruments, which together create bold soundscape. The melodies are superb, making it more instantly accessible than its predecessor. ‘Electricity’ also features a strong melodic vein, with a catchy chorus that pushes the song close to pop territory. However, it is still a deep and intelligent composition, topped off by a closing passage that’s almost a capella, with layers of vocals delivering a unique and distinct end to the song.
Other stand-out moments on ‘Letters To Maro’ include the hugely atmospheric ‘Izanami’ that beguiles with a wondrous sensitivity, before switching to a heavier, more claustrophobic output that combines interesting modern electronic sounds with both acoustic and electric guitars. ‘Escalator’ features some ethereal singing alongside a more theatrical-sounding semi-spoken-word delivery, accented by prominent keys and electronics. It’s another grower but eventually the magic shines through regardless of any initial misgivings about its challenging eclecticism. Equally challenging but in a different way, is the slow-burning ‘Sleep Paralysis’, the ebb and flow of which works its way under your skin.
And a review wouldn’t be complete without mention of ‘Who’s Master’, the epic nine-minute penultimate track which again switches between the serene and the darkly intense with ease. It also showcases the vocal dexterity of Alexia who steals the show with a mixture of the serene and the borderline insane.
Over time and concerted listens, I have greatly warmed to an album that initially left me cold and scratching my head. Frequency Drift have created an album in ‘Letters To Maro’ that rewards the patient and offers significant payback to those willing to spend time and open their minds to what they have to offer. Progressive, atmospheric, cinematic and occasionally veering close to avant-garde, ‘Letters To Maro’ paints bold, colourful vistas in the mind of the listener, whilst drawing you inexorably into the rich and multi-textured aural world that’s Frequency Drift.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse