For prog fans and hermits somehow unaware, British band Frost* are the brainchild of musician, producer and all round top bloke Jem Godfrey, previously known for writing chart-topping hits for groups like Atomic Kitten before turning his hand to his true love, prog.
If you are one of the few uninitiated and are wondering why you’ve not heard them, it might be because they’ve not released a studio album since their first two: 2006’s Milliontown and 2008’s Experiments in Mass Appeal. 2010 live album The Philadelphia Experiment contained one new song, the superb 17-minute epic The Dividing Line, but a new album never materialised. Fans gradually started to give up hope on another release, and can be forgiven for being sceptical about Godfrey’s progress updates in the last year or so.
But here we are in 2016, and Frost* really have genuinely released their actual third album, Falling Satellites. The lineup is much changed again, with the core duo of Godfrey (vocals, keyboards) and John Mitchell (guitar, vocals), of Arena and Tiles fame, the only original members left. They are this time joined by Nathan King (bass) and Craig Blundell (drums).
So, how does it stack up? Well, rather well on the whole. It unmistakably sounds like Frost*, as though it could have been released straight after Experiments. And there is something quite positive and upbeat in the subject matter – a celebration of the unlikelihood of being where we are, and as Godfrey puts it, “the near impossible odds of the things that happen to you in life benefitting you rather than killing you”.
Musically, they occasionally try something a little new and different, but stylistically they have very much stuck to what they are known for, a fusion of prog rock with heaps of pop and electronic stylings. Could they have pushed the boat out a bit further? Perhaps. But then after a long absence there’s a lot to be said for sticking to the core brief. The music is enjoyable and engaging, filled with some excellent moments and a great deal of variety of moods and tones.
Opener First Day provides an atmospheric introduction that sets the ambient tone that returns throughout much of the album. This leads into Numbers, which is an enjoyable rocker with a nice lilt to it, if a little predictable.
We are then treated to a run of very strong songs. Towerblock is Frost* at their best, embracing their pop and electronic sensibilities and reflective lyrics into something that feels modern but classic. Signs is another strong, heartfelt song that wouldn’t sound out of place on either of their previous albums. And then Lights Out, a ballad of sorts, is again dripping with pop infusions, a lovely tune with some great guest vocals.
The rest of the album’s songs form a suite called Sunlight – the songs mostly don’t segue directly from one to the other, but they are connected by some lyrical and musical ideas.
Heartstrings will be familiar to fans as the first song released from the album, a solid rocker with great hooks and massive synthesisers. Stylistically, the song is par for the course with Frost*, but it is hugely entertaining nonetheless. This is followed by Closer to the Sun, a luscious track of beautiful, atmospheric and poppy post-rock, complete with gorgeous guitar and keyboard solos.
The Raging Against the Dying of the Light brings the energy back. It’s a highly enjoyable bluesy hard rock song, energetic and captivating. This leads directly into Nice Day For It, the suite’s climax, and another dynamic and harmonically rich rocker. Hypoventilate, by title, suggests some kind of sequel to Milliontown’s Hyperventilate. But whereas that was an epic prog rock instrumental of the highest order, and indeed a fan favourite, this new track is simply a short ambient piece. It is still hugely atmospheric though, and nicely sets up the gentle, piano-driven closer Last Day, which brings the album to a moving conclusion.
Is Falling Satellites quite as good as Frost*’s first two albums? Overall, no it isn’t, although it’s really not far off. There is a lot to enjoy, and the quality of the songs is very high. But it slightly lags behind in two regards: flow and creativity. With the exception of Towerblock and a couple of other small moments, much of the album sounds exactly like fans will expect Frost* to sound. That will undoubtedly please many fans, and is no mean feat after such a long hiatus. But, regardless, the album feels less fresh and exciting than it otherwise might. It also feels a little less cohesive than the first two, despite half the songs making up a connected suite.
These are minor quibbles though, only really relevant in comparison with their brilliant previous albums. This is a strong return from Frost*, filled with some thrilling moments, and it will please many fans who have been craving more from them. With any luck, Godfrey will be able to keep the momentum up again, and push the boundaries a little further next time.