Imagine yourself in the middle of an incredibly cold and bitter winter in Finland. You were riding your sled with wolves in a very isolated part of the country while all of a sudden you get caught in one of the most terrible blizzards you have ever experienced. In the far horizon, between the mist and frost, you can spot a small shack. Desperate for shelter, you command your pack of wolves to head for that direction, regardless of what you may encounter in this isolated wasteland you have come across. As you desperately gasp for air and your pack of wolves become tired; you can faintly hear a melody coming from the shack you spotted, this sound is Catamenia's "Halls of Frozen North".
Catamenia are a Finnish melodic black metal band that has been around since 1995. They have been releasing a lot of albums since they formed, releasing an album at least once every two years, having a total of eight full-length albums and a live DVD. The albums have slowly been changing their sound into a progressively worse band, changing several of the elements that made their music interesting for more varied approaches to music. This is album is where it all started, with only 2 demos they finally decided to record their first full-length in 1997, two years after forming. The line-up of the band has also significantly changed, they had a different vocalist and a keyboard player. This also turned out to be one of their best as well.
From the opener the listener can notice how the rest of the album will follow, it begins with a very fast but acoustic intro which follows the iciness given by the keyboard arrangements. The vocals are high pitched, fast, and hard to decipher which fits well with the shivering aura of the record. The vocals are also the main focus of the songs, taking most of the listeners attention for the most part of the songs. As mentioned before, the keyboards really add to the atmosphere of the album and also serve as a break in between the songs. The album is dynamic in the sense that it majestically shifts from the harsh verses into the softer melodic arrangements set by the keyboards. This makes it a lot more accessible to outsiders although the vocals are still quite strong, and they are the primary focus of the songs. The album is 46 minutes long, spread into 14 songs that are shorter than average ranging at about 3 minutes each, making them short and sweet, each having their own charm. However, some may prefer longer songs even if they have repetitive elements.
One of the most important highlights is the tempo variety mentioned earlier, which makes the album much more enjoyable and unique. The album may also appeal to fans of true black metal even with the presence of melodic keyboards and riffs since the vocals are still quite raw and harsh. The drumming department is also quite splendid, being well heard during all of the songs, and being second loudest element next to the vocals. Most songs have a fair share of blast-beats during the faster portions of the songs, which are perfectly balanced out by the softer melodic parts. One of the most memorable moments for the guitar are beautifully composed solos in "Child of Sunset" and "Primea Yo", but sadly the guitars fail to stand out for most of the rest of the album. Most of the time they are not really heard or even noticed, but this does not make the album any worse at all, since it does shine in a few instances here and there.
"Dreams of Winterland" is a fantastic opener, all of the instruments(except for guitars) can be well-heard and distinguished. Particularly the vocals get to show the raw in them, they keyboards enhance the frigid atmosphere, and the drumming keeps up to the pace of the songs. The song is mid-paced compared to the other ones on the album but shows what the album is all about. "Into Infernal" begins a lot more slowly but then quickly picks up the speed making it one of the faster songs. "Halls of Frozen North" is one of the highlights, beginning with an interesting arrangement of keyboards, and shifting between harsh verses and slower, more enjoyable icy keyboards. "Forest Enthroned" begins with a soft keyboard arrangement, then the drums and vocals pick up from there, fitting into the faster songs, but also similar to the previous due to shifting into slower parts. "Land of The Autumn Winds" starts with one of the best intros ever, but it ends abruptly and becomes pretty similar to the other songs. If they had kept he same pace as the first part it would have been an overall much
better song, but it at least stands out because of said intro.
Overall this is one of Catamenia's best albums and also one of my personal favorite in the genre of melodic black metal. This album deserves much more attention than it has received, and is much better quality than this band's latest works. This album is recommended for anyone into the more melodic side of extreme metal, but also worth checking out for those into black metal due to its darker elements.
Dreams of Winterland
Halls of Frozen North
Land of The Autumn Winds
Song of the Nightbird