Released: 2013, Metal Blade/Cyclonic Empire Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Until the promo link to the fourth album from Sweden's Ereb Altor landed in my inbox, I'd never even heard of these guys – never mind actually hearing their music. But by the looks of things on Fire Meets Ice, I figured they were probably of the blackened death metal – “deathened” black metal? – ilk, with Pagan/folkish leanings.
Turns out I wasn’t that far off the mark. The trio's rather epic, tumultuous black/Viking/Pagan metal – for lack of a better term – recalls Bathory from Blood Fire Death on, Monumension/Isa-era Enslaved (before the Pink Floyd-isms really started making their presence felt), Primordial or – in their doomier moments - Paradise Lost. The band's big, sprawling sound defies the seeming limitations of their relative lack of numbers – although in the studio, of course, anything is possible, as Bathory proved by essentially morphing into the one-man band of the late Quorthon. Indeed, before drummer Tord came along in 2012, Ereb Altor were a duo – with Mats and Ragnar handling all the instruments and sharing vocal duties.
These guys, however, don't go too overboard with sonic excesses or window dressing – the one notable exception being the layer upon layer of guitar that permeates every song when things get good and heavy, as they often do, or during the soaring lead breaks over the beefy undercurrent riffing of “Helheimsfard.” This wall of sound gives Fire Meets Ice a monumental air that is certainly apt given the grand nature of the styles the band dabble in with their sonic palette.
Ereb Altor kind of ease one into Fire Meets Ice, instead of stampeding right out of the gate – as one might expect of a Viking “horde,” so to speak. The rather audacious 9-plus minute title track that opens the album begins with a soft shimmer of guitar and piano that builds slowly and ominously with chanted harmonies and more instrumentation until the pace and intensity find their stride midway through and grow ever more concussive.
Much of the album is built around similar dynamics – though the construction is often flip-flopped or at least differently configured – and the songs tend to be rather long and involved. Not to mention kind of sounding the same, given their similar approaches. The brisk tempos and menace of the more black metal-minded sections of “The Chosen Ones” or “Nifelheim” do help shake things up – as does the full-on “Post Ragnarock” with its stampeding groove.
A bit more conventional, and effective, is the sweeping melancholia of album closer “Our Legacy,” which maintains its somber tone throughout thanks to mournful vocal harmonies and a drapery of keyboards. Despite its eulogizing lyrics, it brings the album to a somehow glorious, even rousing conclusion - fittingly, not unlike a Viking funeral.