I'll unapologetically state right now that black metal, as of 2018, is largely a stale genre. There's a new Immortal album floating about, which is like putting on old slippers. It's good, but only in a nostalgic sense. Generally, it's all a bit tired. It's the aural equivalent of flock wallpaper and Artex ceilings. The same thing is happening, to a lesser degree, with post-black metal. Deafheaven's new stuff fails to grab my attention and leaves me with a deep sense of "meh". Again, it's incredibly well put together, but that spark of magic that once elevated the genre from its fading roots has become ordinary. Praise be then for Firtan. I first played this album as background music while browsing. I do this sometimes to familiarise myself with music on a subconscious level, and to see if anything jumps out at me. It was at track 3, 'Nacht verweil', where my interest was piqued; my ears both caressed and fisted. It all got very rock and roll on that song, and it got my head nodding. On the second play, giving the album my full attention, its intricacies were further revealed.
Firtan's 'Okeanos' is a complicated beast. At times both brutal and beautiful, it is extremely focussed yet fluid in its execution. Opener 'Seegang' kicks off with some throat singing, morphing into symphonic black metal, via a spoken word transition, before settling into a post-black metal groove. And what a groove it is; I'm not talking Pantera, just a real sense of dynamics. It's a great example of the diversity shown throughout the album. And, it's not seemingly done for the sake of it. Each twist and turn, while perhaps surprising at first, feels natural. This is something that has affected recent Enslaved albums; they've become known for progression, and so there is an expectation for it, even if the song doesn't warrant such jarring transitions. There is no such affliction here.
Drudkh and Janvs are the first musical cues I get from this album, perhaps with a touch of Rivers of Nihil in the scale-based riffing. The production is clear, if a little over-compressed at times. When all instruments are at full-bore there's a slight amount of ducking; this is through headphones, though, so it may well go unnoticed over a normal stereo system. The combination of violins and acoustic guitar during 'Nacht verweil' is beautiful, yet sombre. It's a theme carried over into the brief instrumental 'Purpur'. At first listen, it may seem a throw-away track, but I like that it splits up the ferocity of what comes before and after it. Indeed, this sense of serenity appears to be cemented-in once 'Uferlos' starts and, while the track is interspersed with acoustic guitars, it's equally heavy and dynamic; a real sense of drama. Closing track 'Siebente letzte Einsamkeit', which clocks in at just shy of ten minutes, is a progressive masterpiece. There are subtle echoes of Sabbat, or even Ihsahn at his most tribal, in some of the riffing. But it's the use of keys that grabs me; a very 'Real Thing'-era Faith No More sound about it, while the guitars lay down an almost 'Powerslave'-like melody.
Firtan has given me hope that there is still life in extreme music.
Review by Steve Cowan
13th July 2018
2) Tag Verweil
3) Nacht Verweil
6) Siebente Letzte Einsamkeit
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Firtan's 'Okeanos' is a complicated beast. At times both brutal and beautiful, it is extremely focussed yet fluid in its execution."