Friday, December 4, 2015

Album Review: Firespawn - "Shadow Realms"

I hate it when this happens.  It seems to happen a couple times every year.  In recent memory, it happened most egregiously in the study of Lonewolf’s album “The Fourth and Final Horseman.”  Here we go again.  Given that half of upstarts Firespawn is composed of members of Entombed, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Firespawn, a band that combines the power of several different bands, including those previously mentioned and Dark Funeral, aims to give the listener a taste of death metal as it perhaps should have evolved all along.  Their new record “Shadow Realms” gives us the authenticity of death metal’s dark roots with the high articulation we’ve come to expect from the genre in this new millennium.  Throughout the album’s length, the guitar exhibition put on by Victor Brandt is both artistic and requisitely sharp; his accents harmonize well with the undulating rhythms underneath and his skillful note selection serves not only to add embellishment to the pieces, but to highlight the foundations of each track.

Now, he’s not blowing us away with furious riffs that would rival the greatest creations of Yngwie, but he doesn’t need to, either, because 1) there’s more to effective guitar playing than simple speed and scale and 2) Ingwie is a dick and who wants to be like him, anyway?  Nevertheless, Brandt’s creativity helps songs like “Spirit of the Black Tide” and “All Hail” get off the ground, as he lays down solid, old-school soloing that appeals to the classic death metal fan in us all.

“Imperial Burning” is arguably Brandt’s and the album’s finest moment, combining a simple but sinister infectious riff with the heavy steps of death metal threaded throughout.  The guitar solo that peaks through close to the conclusion is bright by comparison, but serves as a proper stark contrast to what came before, and also lends a little context to the title of the song, as though Brandt were trying to articulate what the lapping flames of a roaring blaze might sound like.

And now we loop back to the beginning – hate it when this happens.  Here’s where things get dicey; while the music of Firespawn is energetic and up-tempo and appropriately dark and dire, the vocal delivery of Lars Göran Petrov is….well, awful might not be too strong a word.  His is not a comically bad delivery as so many metal singers are either through intention or accident.  Rather, it’s just plain difficult to withstand an entire album of his groaning his way through monotone utterances like Chris Reifert on a weekend bender.  The song “Necromance,” amid many of the titles we’ve already discussed, would be a great track, but the vocal performance is dry and mismatched, the constant, repetitious groaning of Petrov dragging on ad nauseum.

There is a threshold at which the music of Firespawn would be so transcendent that the vocal delivery, not matter how abrasive, would be forgettable or forgivable.  Reluctantly, while “Shadow Realms” is enjoyable enough as an aural assault, the tunes are not so singularly impressive as to overcome their one crippling weakness.

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