Initially founded as a supergroup of sorts (as it contained both It Bites vocalist John Mitchell and IQ/Arena bassist John Jowitt, who’s since departed) in 2004, British progressive rock quartet Frost* currently consists of Mitchell, co-founding vocalist/keyboardist Jem Godfrey (brother of Tinyfish guitarist/vocalist Simon Godfrey), bassist Nathan King, and drummer Craig Blundell. Surprisingly, the band has maintained its relevance and popularity despite it being nearly a decade since the quartet issued its last record, 2008’s Experiments in Mass Appeal (which followed the highly celebrated debut, 2006’s Milliontown). Thankfully, the hiatus was not in vain, as the group’s third outing, Falling Satellites, is an expectedly thrilling, atmospheric, and catchy journey from beginning to end. Although it’s EDM tinges can be a bit overbearing at times, the vast majority of the sequence is extremely enjoyable.
In the disc’s official press release, Godfrey says, “I think it’s our strongest album to date and moves the sound forward whilst still referencing what’s gone before. It’s also great to have finally co-written some songs with John in a Frost* context.” Falling Satellites is also noteworthy for featuring a guest appearance by guitar legend Joe Satriani, with whom Godfrey played on the 2012 G3 tour.
“First Day” begins the album with ominous orchestration and spacey ambience (think: Sigur Rós), signaling sci-fi catastrophe. Fittingly, Godfrey’s voice is chilling (pun intended) but charred, and his verses—such as “There is never a survivor for the final kiss / I remember how it ended at the start of this”—and choral outbursts are equally impactful. Although brief, it’s nonetheless a devastating yet serene prologue that sets the stage well for what Frost* is about to unleash.
From there, “Numbers” bursts in with folksy guitar arpeggios, hyperactive rhythms, and an overarching speedy tempo. Godfrey covers the instrumentation in overlapping vocals, which provides a smooth, hi-tech coating, and of course, the melodies are gripping. The second half of the track introduces some intricate breaks, which add a bit of intrigue without seeming too showy. (In other words, it provides a nice balance between radio-friendly accessibility and prog rock density). Unfortunately, “Towerblock” feels a bit too commercial and generic in comparison, and its flourishes of electronica aggression are downright annoying, to be honest. Sure, genre siblings like Anathema and Pure Reason Revolution have toyed with similar passages, too, but Frost* goes a bit too far with it here. (Interestingly, Anathema indulged in it most on its last studio LP, Distant Satellites, so maybe the latter word is indicative of the tendency).
Mitchell takes over on “Signs,” and his richer and grittier singing really fits the more grounded arrangement. Melodically, it’s among the most appealing tracks on the record, and while it undeniably sounds like a lost It Bites tune, too, it still fits nicely within the Falling Satellites context. Following a tranquil passage halfway through, the piece amps up the tension with a section featuring sharp guitar riffs and heavy percussion before returning to its original form. Although glitzy, “Lights Out” is an effectively affective ode, with multiple voices (including a silky female tone for the chorus) converging to complement warm piano chords, synthy effects, and danceable beats. It really acts as a culmination of everything Frost* is going for here.
The second half of Falling Satellites is comprised of a six-song suite. It starts with a dynamic beast called “Heartstrings,” which oscillates between fiery futuristic hostility and calm, poppy sensibilities. “Closer to the Sun” is more somber overall, like a lost DBA (Downes Braide Association) track., while “The Raging Against the Dying of the Light Blues in 7/8,” as its title suggests, fully embellishes the band’s progressive rock knack with elegant virtuosity and ambition. It segues into “Nice Day for It . . .” with an enthralling eruption of keyboard and percussive madness, and the [mostly] instrumental impresses throughout its duration thanks to its unpredictable trajectory. It’s an appropriately apocalyptic prelude to the moody dust-settling of “Hypoventilate” and “Last Day,” which obviously reimagines the sentiments of “First Day” (as a pure piano ballad) to give the full-length a sense of meaningful conceptual continuity.
Falling Satellites doesn’t do anything especially, well, special, yet its confidence, depth, and dazzling tones still make it sufficiently idiosyncratic and powerful. There’s an ultramodern sheen covering its every self-assured moment, so it feels like a very fresh effort by several established players. Both Godfrey and Mitchell are unique vocalists, too, which, coupled with the constantly juxtaposing temperaments of the arrangements, makes it consistently absorbing and rewarding. Frost* may have taken the better part of a decade to complete it (which really isn’t too bad; I mean, look at Tool), but fans will surely enjoy it for far longer.