Arð - Untouched By Fire

Artist: Arð

Album Title: Untouched By Fire

Label: Prophecy Productions

Date of Release: 26 April 2024

It seems to me rather serendipitous to be listening to this album and writing my thoughts about it as I sit on a train from East Anglia to Edinburgh, steadily ploughing up the east coast of the UK through the very part of the world which so inspires Mark Deeks, the mastermind behind Arð. For Arð is Northumbria and Northumbria is Arð. As the wild and beautiful landscape of Northumbria rushes past my carriage window, the music of ‘Untouched By Fire’, the sophomore release under the Arð moniker seeps into my ears.

Meaning ‘Native Land’, Arð is Mark Deeks and he immediately made a huge impact with his debut album, ‘Take Up My Bones’ a couple of years ago. I love the debut and I have been looking forward to a follow-up record ever since. For those who missed my review of ‘Take Up My Bones’, it’s worth a reminder that Mark Deeks is a musical director, choir arranger, piano coach, conductor, and best-selling author. Keyboardist for Winterfylleth, too, his accomplishments wouldn’t be complete without mention of his PhD in Philosophy, focusing particularly on the topic of ‘National Identity in Northern and Eastern European Heavy Metal’.  

Not content with all that, Deeks then asks us to hold his mead as he is responsible for just about everything on this album. Lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitars, piano, keyboards, bass guitar; it’s all Deeks, alongside being the sole songwriter. No wonder I’m hopeless as playing music – people like Deeks have stolen all of the talent from us!

I jest of course but once again, music from Arð is no laughing matter. I referred to the debut as funeral doom metal and, whilst I’d maintain this is a very true and fair descriptor of the music, the press release has coined an even better phrase, of ‘monastic doom’. I like this and actually, I’d agree that it paints a more accurate initial picture of the music to be heard on this album. And its no more prevalent than from second one of the opening track, ‘Cursed To Nothing But Patience’. Out of nowhere, we’re hit with a deeply powerful melody to kick things off. It’s resonant, beautiful, and strikes a chord, setting things off to an immediately arresting start. And then, after about 45 seconds, in come the vocals. Layers of choral vocals assault the senses, and the whole thing feels a little spiritual if truth be told, certainly moving and particularly opulent sounding, too, alongside heavy, lumbering riffs that hold the power to shake the ground.

Whilst ‘Take Up My Bones’ told the story of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (634-687 A.D.), Deeks has gone back a touch further this time, to between 604-642 A.D. to focus on the life of the warrior King Oswald. Apparently, taking the press release on face value, Oswald “forged Northumbria with fire and sword by uniting the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira”. And this record covers “Oswald’s rise to power from his exile as a youth in Dal Riada due to a family feud, via his victorious battles to conquer the lands that his father had claimed until his founding of Northumbria.”

I’m not sure whether it’s directly to do with the story that’s being told here, but I will say venture that, whilst still melodic, the compositions here don’t hit me as hard in the feels as the debut did. This may be my imagination, but it’s the sense I get. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, or that it points to a lessening of the overall quality. Because it doesn’t. But I have had to work a little harder this time around to reach my conclusion in order to write this review

‘Name Bestowed’ is, for the most part, a sorrowful composition that makes really great use of the cello (Rubina Huy), organ, piano, and choral vocals to paint a vivid picture of human introspection and emotion. Towards the middle, it opens up to allow room for the heavy doom metal guitars, and unfussy drumming courtesy of Callum Cox (Atavist) creating quite a rousing second half, where the delicate, subtle melodies are built upon well and the vocals are taken up a notch to duet in solemn partnership with the guitars. After a while, the hymn-like track really gets under your skin.

As you might expect, there’s absolutely no let up in the sombreness of the music, with ‘Hefenfelth’ taking up the mantle expertly. After a shorter, quiet intro, the guitars are more quickly into action but alongside some minimalist piano notes, it creates one of the most immediately arresting melodies, pushing the opener close. What I also like is the introduction of acoustic guitars which are deployed every bit as deliberately and sparingly as all other instruments so as to continue the feeling of plaintive minimalism, only to build gradually before being blown away by the force of the heavy guitars in tandem with the spinetingling choral vocals.

I was, at the outset, less keen on ‘He Saw Nine Winters’ and it has perhaps taken the most effort of all six compositions to click with me. The opening riff reminds me very much of the likes of My Dying Bride and early Paradise Lost, as it lumbers with authority and understated power. But it’s not until the latter stages that, for me, the strength of the song comes through thanks in part to a more pronounced melodic element led by a Katatonia-esque lead guitar line (Dan Capp – Wolcensmen). Suddenly, the melancholy is ratcheted up to eleven, especially with the introduction of a most exquisite clean voice to counterpoint the guitars.

‘Beset By Weapons’ is a shorter, quieter piece, much more contemplative in tone, but carrying a very authentic air thanks to the use of Northumbrian pipes courtesy of guest, Beverley Palin. It is not only a beguiling track in its own right, but it acts as a great precursor to the final composition, ‘Casket Of Dust’. Here, on the album’s longest track, spoken word is introduced by Deeks to help bring the story to a fitting conclusion. Indeed, there’s a definite air of finality to the music, but also an understated sense of satisfied completion, vaguely positive and rousing in spite of the overall tone of the record.

Once again, Mark Deeks and his merry band of guest musicians have conjured an excellent album of authentic and deeply engaging doom metal, monastic doom if you will. If I’m being completely truthful though, if I had to pick one, I’d plump for ‘Take Up My Bones’ over ‘Untouched By Fire’. However, that has almost certainly got something to do with expectation, in that when the debut was released, I had no idea what to expect. This time I do. But other than that, it’s simply the chosen melodies on the debut that, on balance, speak to me a little more resoundingly. That’s just personal choice and very subjective so if you were a fan of Arð’s debut, you’re sure to love this one as well as it’s equally as well written and performed, and very much cut from the same cloth.  

The Score of Much Metal: 90%



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