Artist: Fires In The Distance
Album Title: Air Not Meant For Us
Label: Prosthetic Records
Date of Release: 28 April 2023
Those who know me know that I have more than just a little soft spot for melodic death metal. When done correctly, it fuses together two of my favourite musical elements – melody and brutality. Naturally, there are bands that fall within the broad melodic death metal descriptor, who fail on one or either of these ingredients. There are some that fail both, too, leading me to question whether the description is even remotely accurate. But it’s no coincidence that bands like Omnium Gatherum, Dark Tranquillity, Carcass, and At The Gates find themselves in high esteem within the Mansion Of Much Metal. In the case of Omnium Gatherum, I’d class them as an all-time top five band for me.
And now I have another band to add to the list. Normally the preserve of the Scandinavian countries, quality melodeath from elsewhere is much rarer. For my tastes, the United States has always been a reasonably barren wasteland for the genre. Not because there aren’t tons of good bands across the Atlantic, but because these bands generally fail to float my boat.
But for no longer can I say this. And that’s all thanks to a brand-new discovery for 2023, Connecticut-based quartet, Fires In The Distance. They may have formed in 2016, releasing their debut full-length in 2020, but I completely missed ‘Echoes From Deep November’ at the time. As such, just like Møl, An Abstract Illusion, and Kardashev did last year, Fires In The Distance have come out of nowhere and slapped me right across the face.
I mean this in the nicest possible way, too, because I have been utterly blown away by their sophomore release, ‘Air Not Meant For Us’. At its most basic, my love affair with Fires In the Distance stems from the fact that they genuinely do combine my two key elements for quality melodic death metal. Firstly, they are properly heavy, apparently taking great delight in making music that will shake the floorboards if played loud enough. Secondly, they are incredibly melodic. But not in a sugary, saccharine way; the melodies that emerge from the band within their compositions are elegant and majestic, but also poignant and emotional. These guys are very different from Omnium Gatherum, mainly because of their strong doom metal leanings, but my love for both can be explained by the fact that they both nail these fundamentals, giving me chills in the process.
As certain as death and taxes, I shall be exploring the debut in some detail as soon as possible. I suspect I’ll end up kicking myself for missing it first time round. But for now, I need to focus on ‘Air Not Meant For Us’ because there’s so much to say about it.
For much of the album, it was ‘like at first listen’, leading to a strong desire to listen to it again immediately. From there, the listens have grown quickly, as has my opinion of the record. It’s not ‘like’ anymore, it’s ‘love’. Initially, if I had any kind of slight misgiving with ‘Air Not Meant For Us’, it was that I felt my enjoyment might wane a little because of the slower, more ponderous nature of the material overall. As it turns out, that hasn’t happened, and indeed, part of the charm of this album is the way in which it has a solemn melancholy to it, created by the unashamed doom-laden qualities it possesses. In fact, if we’re to be entirely accurate, we should refer to Fires In The Distance as a melodic death/doom metal band. But whatever you call it, the results are just fantastic.
The intro to opening track, ‘Harbingers’ sets the tone beautifully, as it features the rich and delicate sounds of a piano, offering an instantly beguiling melody. From there, in come thick, molten riffs that are just so powerful, a rumbling bass and assured drumming adding to the heaviness and intensity of the song. But the melody remains, enhanced through the use of prominent synths.
The vocals, at the hands of Kristian Grimaldi and Craig Breitsprecher are savage, a combination of low, guttural growls and a slightly higher-pitched mid-range rasping growl/scream. The pace of the track isn’t fast, but it allows plenty of room for the riffs at the hands of Yegor Savonin and the aforementioned Grimaldi to fully resonate and work their muscular magic.
At over ten minutes, it’s a long song, but it never feels overworked or laborious. Instead, the quartet weave light and shade into the track by dropping the heaviness at points in order for the piano, courtesy of Savonin to take centre stage, whilst a simple, effective beat is meted out by Jordan Rippe, the bass of Breitsprecher dances, and the intensity gently grows, all the while leaving me speechless thank to the stunningly beautiful melodies that flit atop the music so serenely. We get double-pedal drumming to increase the intensity further, chunky and groovy riffs, and incendiary lead guitar breaks to just hammer home the magnificence of this first song.
250 words on one song alone might be a bit of a record, even for me, but ‘Harbinger’ deserves it, and more besides. What’s more, happily, the brilliance does not end here, as we have another five compositions to explore, spread out over another forty minutes.
Next up is ‘Wisdom Of the Falling Leaves’ which, after another quieter opening, explodes with real power, noticeably more up-tempo and punchy than its predecessor. The guitar tones are so heavy and menacing, too, but once again, there are counterpointed by beautifully fragile and ethereal tinkling keys. It’s a bit like listening to the musical equivalent of a delicate fairy flitting across a dark, rancid tar pit within the bowels of the Earth. I love it as much as I love ‘Harbinger’, and that’s saying something.
A swaying tempo assaults us with the introduction of ‘Crumbling Pillars Of a Tranquil Mind’. Aside from being blessed with one of my favourite song titles ever, it is a devastating blend of insanely heavy death/doom metal and scintillatingly brittle melody. The production of this album is marvellous too, as the separation allows everything to be heard without sacrificing any of the overwhelming power of the music. Lead guitar solos make a glorious appearance at points, we get more wonderful breaks in the relentless heaviness to highlight the key-driven melodies, but we are also treated to some solemn but gorgeous strings that add richness and further poignancy to the song. This is yet another masterstroke from a band seemingly absolutely and effortlessly in control of everything; it’s like they have a Midas touch.
‘Adrift, Beneath The Listless Waves’ is an instrumental piece, and opens with more string arrangements and a melody that has brought me genuinely to tears on more than one occasion. The keys are stunning, whilst the guitars are more involved, acting as the vocalists in tandem with the piano notes, creating a thoroughly engaging track. Six minutes? It feels more like three in all honesty.
Having hit upon a formula that works for them, and without a doubt works for me, Fires In The Distance complete this sophomore effort with the duo of ‘Psalm Of the Merciless’ and ‘Idiopathic Despair’, both of which maintain the quality which, by now, is threatening to go off the scale. The former in particular, starts off feeling like it is a slightly more straightforward melodic death metal song. However, again, the melodies come out of nowhere to knock me flat, albeit perhaps used a little more sparingly on this occasion, and with more of a focus on expressive lead guitar solos. I like this subtle tweak in approach very much, actually. I also really enjoy the use of spoken-word samples within ‘Idiopathic Despair’, as it adds a sense of the epic to a composition that comes across as slightly faster and more urgent, whilst still retaining all of the ingredients about which I have spent far too much time waxing lyrical.
You’ll therefore be relieved to read that my conclusion will be brief. ‘Air Not Meant For Us’ is insanely good. In fact, it’s magnificent. I’d change nothing about it. Not a single thing. Fires In The Distance have utterly blown me away with this almighty slab of brutally beautiful melodic death/doom metal, so much so that I’ve listened to precious little else since I first pressed play. What an album, what a band. This has my highest possible recommendation.
The Score of Much Metal: 95%