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FROSTHELM – Eternal Winter And Darkness
Theron Moore
July 2017

Frosthelm (l-r): Billy Zahn, Brian Helm, Jimmy Cherry, Dakota L. Irwin and Bernard Pfliger

Yeah I know. What comes to mind when I say North Dakota? Fargo, right? The Cohen Brothers movie. It’s a tough state to live in, especially during the winter months, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? And in the case of Frosthelm, that’s literally the truth.

It’s taken the United States a while to figure out black metal, but in the last few years bands like Bereft (Madison, Wisconsin), Black Devotion (Chicago, Illinois) and Manticore (Euclid, Ohio) have been waving the banner and pummeling audiences with their blackened sound, and so too have Bismarck, North Dakota-based Frosthelm.

“We started playing together in the spring of 2008 when I was offered a vacant spot in a death / grind band called Servium,” says guitarist Dakota L. Irwin. “At the time it had been almost five years since I had played with a band so I was eager to start playing again. I spent the next year developing a sound that I was satisfied with and that we could build off of. By the time we were ready to start playing out the band had changed so much we felt that a new name was needed.

“When we first started, we had two guys who were into black metal, a death metal guy, a grind guy and I was the thrash guy. So those elements were always present at rehearsals and just hanging out afterwards, drinking beers and listening to records. We never said ‘let’s be a black metal band’, but speed and melody were at the forefront of those early rehearsals. I’m not saying that speed plus melody equals black metal, but the intensity and the feeling you get when the drums are blasting and the guitars are loud really left an impression on me. I would say that black metal dictated us to a degree.”

Like most extreme metal bands, Frosthelm’s roots go deep. “Slayer’s Hell Awaits [1985] is the one album that turned me on to the more extreme metal styles,” reveals Irwin. “This is one of the few records to me that’s perfect start to finish, and I still listen to it all the time. It’s all there – speed, cool riffs, melody, hooks, lyrics, big grooves – everything and more.

“I remember getting this album in the mail back in early 1997. Back then there used to be cards in magazines for CD clubs. You fill out the card and send it off with a penny and get something like seven CDs. Anyway, this was one of the seven I picked and to me it was on another level. I had Show No Mercy [1983] on cassette, but Hell Awaits just stepped it up for me big time. I liked Slayer before I heard that album but I became a fan after it. I used to sit in detention and write the lyrics from Hell Awaits on my desk. The influence from this album is still obvious in tons of black, death, thrash, speed, whatever bands directly or indirectly.”

It’s no surprise that death metal has an influence on Frosthelm’s music as well. “My first introduction to death metal was from a cousin of mine,” reflects the guitarist. “He showed me the first Six Feet Under album Haunted [1995]. This would have been around 1998. That opened a lot of musical doors for me. Some of the bands I was into back then would be Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death and Carcass.

Frosthelm 2015 (l-r): Brian Helm, Bernard Pfliger, Dakota L. Irwin and
Jimmy Cherry

“The first black metal album I bought was A Haunting Curse [2006] by Goatwhore. Back then I bought albums based on how much money was in my pocket and how cool the name and artwork were. And since getting new music to listen to was a rare treat for me, anything new would be on endless repeat for weeks. Such a good record. My friend Scott got me into Immortal and Emperor, and my friend Ji introduced me to Dissection, which is one of the greatest bands of all time and left a big impression on me.”

And as such, the foundation for what would later become the shredding guitar sound for Frosthelm assumes form, grows fangs, and evolves.

Frosthelm. The name alone brings forth visions of cold, snowy, bleakness; denied by the sun, fostered by darkness. In a way that’s kind of an apt description of North Dakota in the winter, which makes it all the more surprising that such a place would have any kind of music scene. “There isn’t a real metal scene here in Bismarck,” admits Irwin. “There are a handful of metal bands here and there, but metal is a broad term and the bands that are here reflect that.

“Ten years ago there was a much more active punk / grind scene with a few death metal acts attached to it. But I’m not from here originally so I can’t really comment on what it was or what it’s become. I do know there are a lot of acoustic / fedora / beard bands here now. But if you book metal bands here people will show up… there just isn’t enough of it to be a scene.

“As far as local extreme metal bands go, the only one that comes to mind is Grizzly Horse. But on the state level there is Gorgatron, Rotting Thought, Untold Fog, Tagus and Antlers. If there are more, I’m sure they are still in the basement. In the larger communities there are venues to play. I know Minot and Fargo are still pretty active with punk and metal.

“Usually the bills are mixed with all kinds of different bands and that’s the way it’s been here since I started playing live. I always thought that was cool. Mostly VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] halls and smaller rental venues. There isn’t much to do around here so when bands are playing people appreciate live music, especially the more extreme stuff.”

Irwin pauses for a moment. “We don’t play here that often because two of our members live out of state, so the majority of our performances have been on tour. In the past we were more active on the local level. Who knows, though? I mean, that could change soon. I’d personally like to play more in our home state. The majority of the band lives here in Bismarck which is the capital. I’ve only been living here for a few years. I’m from a small ‘rez’ town, which has a population of around 1000. Three of the four directions where I lived was open prairie, so yes very remote. Since we hail from the middle of nowhere, our exposure to other scenes, such as what’s happening in Chicago, Illinois or Portland, Oregon, for example, is limited to when we tour.”

Although the band has been around nine years, its discography is still growing. “We have released a demo, an EP called The Northwinds Rend Flesh [2012] and a full-length titled The Endless Winter [2015],” states the guitarist. “There are a few cassettes with the EP on one side and a live session from a KFAI radio programme called Root Of All Evil in Minneapolis and CDs of The Endless Winter available on Bandcamp. There are also shirts, patches and some other things available there too. We have also had a lot of demand for more tapes and vinyl, so those will be coming as well.”

But the band isn’t sitting idle. “We just finished headlining the Stygian Rites Fest 2017 pre-show [in Rapid City, South Dakota], which was our only obligation for the year,” says Irwin. “Now we are actively writing and demoing our next release. We also added another guitar player [Billy Zahn] who is a very talented shredder and song writer. So other than that we have just been laying low and working on new material. A lot of our inspiration comes from personal experience, dark arts, loss, self-doubt, the cold and lonely North Dakota winters. There have been songs, musically, I’ve written with a subject or feeling in mind. I’d show Bernard [Pfliger, vocals] the song and tell him what it was about, and he’d write the lyrics to it.

“A good example would be ‘The Dragon’ which is loosely based on the plot of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow . Bernard was able to take what I had in mind and personalise it. I thought that was cool. ‘Silent And Dark, The Everlasting Sky’ is a song Bernard and I co-wrote lyrics for. The song is based on Tibetan sky burial, but in the sense of existing one day and then not existing at all, my perspective on death / decay and his side being more of a metaphor for questioning existence itself. I wrote the first half and he wrote the second. It turned out well.

“I am very influenced by European black metal, particularly the 90s Swedish bands. I didn’t know that until after I was into them. The bands I like the most are able to blend the dark and heavy and melodic and they do it seamlessly. When I hear that kind of music I get that same feeling Hell Awaits gave me when I was kid.”

But is there a difference between U.S. and European styles of metal, specifically black metal? “I don’t know these days?” muses the guitarist. “I think on a global level the lines have been blurred so much that it doesn’t really matter. Everyone seems to toss everything back and forth, which is cool. You can ask ten different people what metal is and you’ll get ten different answers. To me it doesn’t matter all that much as long as it’s just good music. I’m not from a black metal scene or even a metal scene. And what I mean by that is that I can’t tell where a band is from just by listening to them. Can anyone these days? I don’t know. I just know what I like and what I don’t like.

“As long as I’m able to express myself with my instrument and my band then I am content. That being said, our sound has changed from those first practices in the basement to the demos we’re working on now. I don’t really notice it until its side by side.

“If the music is honest then I don’t think any change in direction might be too much, if it happens. And as far as the music is concerned, for me it has always dictated itself. I’m looking forward to what’s next for us as a band, now that we have a new member with a very different style and approach than mine. Some of the new material we are working on has some very interesting detours. Our main focus is getting a new album out. If it’s released via a label or independently, makes no difference to us. As long as it’s honest, right?”

Frosthelm has a Facebook page. Like it. You can also find their music on Bandcamp here. U.S. black metal is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and Frosthelm is leading that charge. Now, bow at the altar of metal, for the gods of steel are calling you!

The Endless Winter was released on March 22nd, 2015 via Alkemy Brothers.

Interview published in July 2017

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