1816 was ‘the year with no summer’. It was one of the coldest years on record. Thousands of people froze to death. Later, the exceptionally cold spell was linked to the violent volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, which subsequently interfered with the relatively stable climate and led to a lengthy period of extreme weather. From out of this era, The Frozen Vaults materialise.
The Frozen Vaults are Bartosz Dziadosz (Pleq), Harry Towell (Spheruleus), Yuki Murata (piano), David Dhonau (cello) and Tomasz Mrenca (violin). Like a recently discovered black and white photograph of a bygone era, their music slowly seeps into the present – it tries to, at least. Ultimately, the music’s chained to the cold year it inhabits. The opening frozen arpeggios break off from their parent frozen chords. Like chunks of ice, they drift away on the still strings. Sepia-tainted worlds come to life, but they show their age; they’re slightly tattered and dog-eared.
The Frozen Vaults blend a cold and dank ambient sound with a modern classical framing. The strings help to revive the traditional and prevalent sound of the 19th century, and they lend themselves perfectly to the period. Snowflakes fall in tandem with the strings. Cobalt lakes that should be flowing are instead icy and dangerous, and cold winds fall over Europe. The ‘Beast from the East’ offers no release. In 1816, the chill starts immediately. Cold air sweeps in from the north, and strings slip and slid over the icy river. Ambient textures that are only just able to survive somehow remain on the go, but they’re always heavily weighted with the thick clothing they need to stay warm. The faded crackles that seep into the record are a part of history, the year itself dripping uneasily into the present.
‘Cold Light of Day’ and ‘Frozen Streams’ drag the listener into the cold pit. Rain starts to pour, and the overcast mood doesn’t really lift. The stilted spring has an eerie feel to it when you hear the song ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ in early April. And as the sun struggles to shine, the music tries to find its way in the dark. One by one, the notes tentatively stretch out in the ‘Cloak of Lingering Fog’. Makeshift scarves and clouds that carry the sulky colours of a noxious, pregnant smoke are permanent fixtures in the cold, dank days. Gentle and yet permanent, deadly and yet strangely beautiful, the winter of 1816 was a rarity. Its unusually long period was something that has never been rivalled. Through sound, the winter tries to claw its way back. The year tries to invade; 1816, the year the sun forgot to shine.