November 21, 2020

An eight-disc treasure chest that rewards the patience of starved Frost*heads…

When it rains, it pours. Or maybe in Frost’s case, when it snows, it… er, never mind. The fact is, until this year there hadn’t been a new Frost* release in four years. Then in June came Others, a digital EP of new material compiled by main man Jem Godfrey to whet the appetites of the fan base while they wait for the new album next year. For most bands, this would provide a reasonable stopgap. Now, though, comes the titanic 13 Winters, an eight-disc treasure chest that rewards the patience of the starved Frost*heads while tempting the collector nuts the world over.

I’ll admit I had to split up my listening of this beast into blocks of time over the better part of a week. Eight hours of one band is a serious commitment, and too much to cram in all in one day if one is to remain objective. But then, an anthology of this magnitude is not meant to be consumed and promptly filed away on a shelf. The 74 tracks that comprise 13 Winters (and its beautiful accompanying book) form an exhaustive resource, a ‘one-stop shop’ for the avid fan not satisfied with anything less than complete. Freshly polished editions of the band’s three studio albums are here, alongside Others in physical form for the first time. The live album The Philadelphia Experiment is also included, but it’s here that the aforementioned completeness factor wavers a tad, as the original two-disc edition has been condensed to one. However, fans can take solace in the addition of a full new disc culled from a 2017 performance which sees the majority of the Falling Satellites album unveiled in a live setting.

The set is further augmented by the complete Falling Satellites album in instrumental form, something that was included, I’d wager, simply because it could be. Speaking for myself, I don’t have a lot of use for instrumental versions of albums unless I dislike the vocals. And in the case of guys like Godfrey, Dec Burke or John Mitchell, I love the vocals. But mileage can vary, and surely there is someone out there who will really dig this, so why not indeed.

Capping things off is the eighth (and overall highlight) disc This And That, an assortment of demos and rarities to further tantalize the collector. Oddly, this disc plays remarkably like a proper album in and of itself, somehow avoiding the cobbled-together ‘bits and bobs’ feel of many such compilations throughout history. The mad science of opening piece The Dividing Line forms a wild 17-minute journey through worlds of sound and vibe, Godfrey assembling all past and present Frosties to contribute to what could well be simultaneously the finest and most manic piece of music to come from the camp. Numerous demos provide insight by showcasing album tracks in varying stages of completion, such as Closer To The Sun and Heartstrings (the first song Godfrey and Mitchell ever wrote together), while the punky energy of The Forget You Song operates on a different wavelength altogether. The dreamy Hyperventilate Hypoventilate Paulstretch Test concludes the disc and the set itself on an atmospheric note.

13 Winters has wide-ranging appeal, whatever your level of fandom is. The extensive book is impressive to behold, chock full of new artwork, photos and notes, and the clarity of sound is pretty fantastic. Whether or not you choose to sell off your original albums will depend on your opinion of the remastered sound of these new editions. Personally, I find the degrees of improvement range from Barely Noticeable to Massive Improvement, the latter particularly applied to sophomore album Experiments In Mass Appeal, which has had new sonic life breathed into it with a complete from-the-ground-up remix, and hopefully earns the respect it is due, after initially failing to capture hearts quite the same way the darling debut Milliontown did.

One of the simplest pleasures, though, is observing the evolution of their sound over the course of the studio output, with the live and demo material acting as companion pieces along the way. From the melodic prog sensibilities and huge production of Milliontown to the rawer, guitar-based alt-rock ingredients of Mass Appeal, through to the thumping electronica and adrenaline of Satellites and Others – the latter with its highlight tracks Clouda and Drown signaling directions Frost* could expand on in the future. Regardless of the path they take next, Godfrey, Mitchell and company remain an edgy and forward-thinking band who challenge listeners with brave experimentation and daring production, and if ever there was a place for longtime and new fans alike to dive right in and meet in the middle, it’s 13 Winters. This is a limited one, folks, I’d grab it while you can.