Hailing from the beautiful nation of Finland is the exceptionally talented rock band Frozen Factory. I first introduced them to my readers last June when I reviewed their excellent EP The First Liquidation, which they cheekily described as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” I was so impressed with its high quality that I didn’t think they could top it, but their new album Of Pearls & Perils has proven me wrong. I’m not generally a huge fan of hard rock, but I loved it at first listen. And it’s not often I call an album a “masterpiece”, but Of Pearls & Perils deserves that title, and then some.
Since forming in December 2018, Frozen Factory has undergone several personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, keyboards and backing vocals, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on lead vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, Marianne Heikkinen on drums, and Johnny Koivumäki, who joined the band in late 2021, on rhythm guitar. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.
Interestingly, Of Pearl & Perils was actually written and partly recorded before the band even began writing and recording The First Liquidation EP. They explain: “We penned ‘Of Pearls & Perils’ almost immediately after finishing 2020’s ‘Planted Feet’ and fell so in love with the songs that we wanted to make sure we’d give the album all the right conditions to sound the best it could. So, we banked the songs and experimented with the creation of ‘The First Liquidation’, expanding our horizons along the way. As a result, the EP and this new album link together almost like siblings. That’s not to say that ‘The First Liquidation’ is a B-record – it simply felt like a necessary bridge to our growth before we tackled the monster we knew was lurking within ‘Of Pearls & Perils’.“
And what a magnificent monster it is! They’ve really outdone themselves with their skillful blending of alt-rock, melodic metal and progressive elements to create an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. All 12 tracks are outstanding, overflowing with gorgeous melodies, driving rhythms and breathtaking instrumentation. The poetic lyrics are both biting and deeply insightful, and delivered with Stephen’s powerful, resonant vocals, which often cover me with chills. He seriously has one of the more beautiful voices in rock today.
Written by Stephen and Tomi, the album addresses such topics as inequality and oppression, toxic masculinity, the afterlife, and the climate crisis. More specifically, the dark lyrics reflect Stephen’s inner struggles with the behavior of much of the human race, including himself. He elaborates: “I really cannot comprehend why we’re so careless with our home planet and the living communities that depend on it. I’m sad when I see regular people fighting with other regular people and then voting to give power to people who’re hell-bent on destroying regular folk. I feel like we’ve become so easy to influence, so easy to deceive, so easy to distract with trivial differences. I’d like to see a safe world where every kind and life-respecting human has the opportunity to reach their potential, no matter what kind of body they possess, beliefs they follow or lifestyle they lead. Our songs are usually a wake-up call, and often written to push myself as well as anyone else who listens, because I sometimes feel lazy and inactive about things that should anger me to the core. I want to be more. I want to do more to help. I want human civilisation to succeed.”
Album opener “Murder in the Depths” starts off with a woman speaking the line “Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis” (which translates to English as “Only a fool would never change their mind”), accompanied by jarring sounds of a siren blaring a warning. The woman speaking is Angela Carolei, one of Frozen Factory’s most active fans, whom they’ve never met. Her voice is also featured in several other little moments throughout the record, in both French and English. Stephen said that he chose to use some minor French moments for both Of Pearls & Perils and The First Liquidation “because the French language includes some absolutely killer phrases that don’t work so well in English.”
With lyrics containing nautical references, a theme that will be repeated on several tracks, the song encapsulates the album’s overall messages of social injustice and inequality, not only among classes but between men and women, oppression and environmental degradation. “Murder in the Depths” speaks of a woman who perished while diving for pearls intended for the wealthier class, which she would never have had the opportunity to wear: “With little choice like most before, she laboured for a dream. Was sent to dive too deep, where nobility refused to even dip their toes. Her lungs collapsed far below...if we don’t face up together, fear will point our distrust down. And billions more will drown.”
The song quickly segues into “Host With the Most“, blasting through the speakers with a barrage of raging guitars, throbbing bass and Marianne’s explosive drumbeats. And though it’s purely coincidental, I like the little guitar riff that sounds like the one from The B-52s “Rock Lobster”, and Mici’s wailing guitar solo in the bridge is absolute fire. As an Atheist who does not believe in heaven nor hell (other than how both are manifested here on earth), the lyrics about how so many people endure injustice and pain in their lives, hopeful in the belief they’ll do better in an afterlife, strongly resonate with me: “How many place their bets on bliss? How many live their lives for this? Oh have they seen some guarantees or signs of afterlife? / There’s only one life given at a time. The rest is a question that will never die. But you will die, so be prepared to say goodbye. No afterlife.“
“Solar Windfalls” is a gentle song with a nod to David Bowie’s iconic “Space Oddity” and “Life On Mars”, sung from the perspective of an astronaut traveling through space, contemplating their endless search for exciting new adventures and the state of the world they’ve left behind: “I’m closer than ever to an answer for Bowie. Yeah I turned to face the strange, but what can life on Mars teach me about the richer man’s change?/ What have I become? Pursuing shiny desires. Points of light above keep me majorly wired. Is there even a place at the end of my trail? Or will I endlessly trace a line that’s destined to fail? The pale blue dot fades, she is to me ever darker, ever farther she wanes, and the chasm grows starker.” The somber piano keys, twinkling synths and chiming guitars are wonderful, as are Stephen’s plaintive vocals.
The next several tracks see Frozen Factory railing against racism, cruelty and putting our faith in duplicitous leaders who steer us to ruin. On “Equalise Power“, they call out racism, fear of the other, and police brutality, and implore us to act with fairness, tolerance and compassion: “What part of you is broken? That your heart cannot be open to a person of another colour, what is colour? You’ve been put in a bubble to elevate your struggles. Your fire stoked by nonsense that you swallow gladly. Apparently unable to see what’s on the table. The poison that you’ve been fed since your first days alive./ Your reasons for hate are not reasonable. When you discriminate you are not reasonable. That call you will make it is not reasonable. The actions police take will not be reasonable. Time to end this now. Time to equalise power. Seize thy hour.”
They channel their inner Alice In Chains on the hard-hitting “The Depths of Hell“, a scathing diatribe against too many societies’ penchant for going against our best interests in the support of disingenuous and evil leaders who stoke hate and divisiveness by preying on our fears: “Our only future is the ash of the past, when we fund and root for the most egregious ass. We love a Lucifer to fork our lives on every burning issue. They will decide. We’ve picked our demons to fix our aim and sell us our trip to heaven.” The song’s a proper metal rock gem, with a deep, pummeling rhythm courtesy of Tomi’s crushing bassline and Marianne’s speaker-blowing drums. Mici’s guitar work is positively fearsome as he makes his six-string wail and scream, and Stephen’s vocals are dripping with venom as he matches the music’s fury note for note.
And speaking of venom, they launch headlong into “Loud, Lazy, Late“, furiously calling out an asshole totally lacking in any redeemable attributes: “Can’t you show any will to grow? Any thoughts to be kinder than you’ve been. You’ve no empathy, it’s all me me me. You don’t like my tone, but you’ve abso-fucking-lutely got to go! Loud, lazy, late and low quality!“
“Pie in the Sky” is a stirring anthemic ballad, with beautiful piano, cinematic synths, and exuberant jangly and wailing guitars. The lyrics seem to speak of finding contentment not from material possessions and desires, but from the natural beauty and love that lies inside each of us if we allow it to flourish and grow: “False symbols of winning life, bring promise before denial. ‘Cause what we’d like you cannot buy. This is our own and it’s beautiful.”
I think my favorite track from a musical standpoint is “Absolute in Vanity“. I love its strong driving beat, heavy chugging rhythms and gorgeous ostinato guitar riffs of a similar vein as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, though the melody is vastly different. The song is a kind of response to “The Depths of Hell” above, but this time sung from the perspective of the evil Trump-like leader people have elected: “You! I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You love me? Well. I don’t come free. No. I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You chose me? Well. I don’t come cheap. Because of lies, lies. You idolise lies.” Between those fiery riffs and Stephen’s spectacular impassioned vocals, I’m left covered in goosebumps.
“We’re Gonna Die” is a rousing banger decrying peoples’ greed and insatiable need for more, more, more, and how it’s killing the planet: “Long ago on a hill lived a group who felt they had a need. Though they had more than most, their whole life was a spiral of greed. They lit a fire for their revolution. The first distant lands burned with absolution. Hey you, we’re gonna die if you don’t change your lifestyle now.” The arresting piano riff reminds me a bit of U2’s “New Years Day”. “Never is a Theory” is perhaps the most enigmatic song on the album. I’m not sure of the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about coming to terms with one’s own death, as expressed in these lyrics: “Will I cease to be tonight, as i can’t believe my sight. A myth the trust in vision seems hard to swallow, lies or dreams yeah. End of the river. End of the river. I’m trying to see, what’s at the end of the river. End of the river for me.” In any case, it’s an enchanting rock song, with terrific improvised guest vocals sung by Lily M.
The title track “Of Pearls & Perils” opens on a pensive note with a man assuring his son that, even though the ship (representing the Titanic) is in trouble, everything will be alright: “Try not to worry about it son. You know what the captain said. He said ‘Every single one of us is safe on this ship.” The song gradually expands into a haunting piano-driven anthem, accompanied by grungy guitars and soaring vocals.
Stephen states that the song is essentially about toxic masculinity, and how men have taken the world in the wrong direction, but remain incredibly stubborn and resistant to change, denying or underplaying their weaknesses and overstating their strengths in order to protect their pride. The ship represents the ruling elite of men who currently control the ship of human destiny, and in this song, a man gains a woman’s love with a gift of pearls, assuring her the ship is safe: “With a hull so strong, we will brush off ice and storms. On the treacherous cold seas we will never freeze. I’ve heard no man can steer us wrong. Our ship will n carry on. This titan can’t be breached. These props will never seize.” As the ship continues to sink deeper into the ocean, his unwavering belief in the men who built the ship, and that it would never sink, cannot be broken: “Sit with me, be relaxed. Rest assured this is a lapse. Don’t listen, look or think. You cannot know that we will sink.” The song ends with sounds of actual Morse code from the Titanic, sending out a distress call, accompanied by an eerie voiceover of a woman, sung by Angela Carolei, saying “Ce n’est pas la mer à boire“, which translates to “It’s not the sea to drink”.
The album closes with the somber “Deceit Upon the Decks“, a final note to the story of the woman described in “Of Pearls & Perils”. The song also mirrors the first track “Murder in the Depths”, except that in this song, the woman who perished was upper-class, rather than a worker: “A skull dressed with her jewels. He never loved her true. They never really were for her, but emblems for other men to observe. Of status, cash and property. The shackles in his evil dream. Her trust went to the top of the chain. They both tumbled when he fell from grace.” Stephen says that the final lines of the song sum up the album’s overall meaning, that we’ve been conditioned to believe that many things that are actually against our own interest would be good for us, and we often allow things to happen that are bad for us: “Of pearls and perils there is much lore. To claim each as a gem for the men with it all. And they’ve told you they’re one and the same. And it’s not your place to question their game.” The last words, spoken by Angela, quietly implore us to “Please, think again.”
What more can I say about this album that I haven’t already gushed over, other than to restate that it’s an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. The thought, care and strong musicianship that have gone into its creation and production are truly impressive, and the five members of Frozen Factory should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I think it’s one of the best albums of 2022.