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First Signs of Frost

First Signs of Frost - The Shape of Things To Come album art

The Shape of Things To Come

11th August 2017 – Basick Records

01. Meat Week
02. White Flag
03. Look Alive Sunshine
04. Atlantis

If the name First Signs of Frost is ringing a distant bell somewhere in the recesses of your mind, it’s with good reason: originally active in the mid-noughties, the last release bearing their name was their 2009 debut album Atlantic, which featured Dan Tompkins on vocals. Dan left the band just before the album was released in order to take up the mic for TesseracT, and the remainder of First Signs of Frost quietly mothballed themselves – but some seven years later, the band have broken with a new members and a new EP, boldly titled The Shape of Things To Come. Maybe a bit too boldly, but we’ll get to that.

Seven years is a long time in progressive metal, and a lot has happened whilst First Signs of Frost have been away. It’s difficult to know, going in for a first listen, whether this EP should be treated as a ressurection or a rebirth. A rummage through the band’s Facebook feed shows they’ve been working on these songs with their new singer, also a Dan, for around eighteen months, but clearly they felt the time was now right to step back into active service. How active that service will be remains to be seen, as a comeback show has still not yet been announced as I type.

Considering the band’s history, placing them in context with Dan Tompkins’ subsequent career is inevitable, and one listen to The Shape of Things To Come makes it completely unavoidable. First Signs Of Frost are clearly mining the same seam of polished, melodic, atmospheric prog-metal that has the likes TesseracT and Skyharbor at the vanguard. Stuttery riffs, waves of atmospheric keyboards, a bit of slappy bass and layer upon layer of vocal harmonies feature in each of the five tracks on offer here, but there’s precious little that isn’t heard on albums like One or Blinding White Noise. With those albums now six and five years old respectively – and both bands having moved on from that sound – First Signs of Frost’s EP feels less like the shape of things to come, and more a remembrance of things past.

Whilst new vocalist Daniel Lawrence lends the release some memorable melodies, they are sometimes drenched in effects to the point of sounding somewhat artificial and over-processed. On the whole, the songs feel dynamically flat; something definitely not helped by largely lifeless drums that bring little expression to proceedings. During an atmospheric bridge section of “Meat Week“, some double-kick starts abruptly only to stop eight bars later after serving no discernible purpose.

Elsewhere, “White Flag” sees the deployment of sub-drops, but they are weirdly placed in the middle of the verses where there’s no real need for a dynamic punch. The outro riff of closing track “Sharks” feels like it could have been a triumphant moment, but it is neutered through jarring note choices and over-repetition without variation. “Atlantis“, the quietest track on a fairly quiet release, feels ponderous and directionless. For every nice little moment on The Shape of Things To Come, there is unfortunately a corresponding disappointment.

Whilst those who have been around the British progressive metal scene for a few years may well get a warm flush of nostalgia from seeing the First Signs of Frost name again, The Shape of Things To Come is sadly too insubstantial to meet the expectations their re-emergence might generate. Whilst it may serve as relatively pleasant background twinkling, it doesn’t stand up to any form of deeper scrutiny. That the band have seemingly worked on these tracks for well over a year without testing them out onstage even in an opening slot on a local show is perplexing, and that may well have highlighted some of these shortcomings.

Ultimately, there are too many bands that have operated in this space for too long with markedly more successful results for the return of First Signs of Frost too feel like anything other than too little, too late. Which is a pity.