We’ve all rushed out to pick up the latest offering from our favorite act, only to later find ourselves steeping in a brew of decaffeinated disappointment. It’s always a sad day when a once great band fails to test their death mettle, losing that urgency and vitality that once made them so relevant. Some, however, divest themselves of all expectation and do whatever the fuck they want. Entombed, for example, progenitors of Swedish death metal, went on to create – for better or worse – death ‘n’ roll, and continued down a path of their own paving. Apparently eager to once again try his hand at a little heavy lifting, the legendary L-G Petrov gathered up contemporaries from such little known bands as Necrophobic, Unleashed, Defleshed and Dark Funeral to create the destructive Firespawn, doling out the kind of riffage that was theirs to perpetrate in the first place. Now set to release their second album, The Reprobate, the question is less what do these veterans have to offer, but more, is it still relevant?
I largely enjoyed debut Shadow Realms despite it having received mixed reviews. Typical Swedeath rhythms barreled over melodic black metal guitar lines and made for an uncomplicated, fun experience – one which I appreciated significantly more than anything currently drifting out of the Entombed A.D. camp. The Reprobate follows suit, but noticeably ups the game. By all accounts, this new platter boasts more inclusive writing credits, with input spanning the width and breadth of the band – consequently, the music enjoys increased resolve in its delivery and reinforced structure in its format. Wasting absolutely no time, opener “Serpents of the Ocean” careens through a medley of chromatic melodies and brisk riffing, and (speaking of increasingly irrelevant) is absolutely the best Amon Amarth song you’ve heard in years… Petrov adopts a more brutal tone than we are currently used to, his stentorian delivery compounds the material, and, along with Matte Modin’s perceptive blasting, fuels the song’s palpable energy.
“Blood Eagle” and “Full of Hate” are notably voracious souls, casting off the melody that swathes much of the album. The former in particular flusters through vortices of semi-technical guitar frenzies, recalling the halcyon days of the members’ respective alma mater. Similarly, “General’s Creed” menaces the record’s core with a kinetic flurry not dissimilar to Dutch legends Sinister, maintaining its break-neck velocity throughout its 4+ minutes. It’s only when The Reprobate dips into mid-pace that it begins to lose interest. “Death By Impalement” is fun but forgettable, with “The Whitechapel Murderer” suffering the same fate. Fortunately, The Reprobate‘s last gasps are its most vital. The title track borrows the fluctuations in cadence of Morbid Angel‘s Domination, instigating many a reeling tempo change and riven with gargantuan palm-mutes, before passing the baton to “Nightwalkers,” a perfect example of trampling Swedish death metal, effortlessly crafted for your consideration by the forefathers of the genre.
The result of guitarists Victor Brandt and Fredrik Folkare’s shared writing catalyses The Reprobate‘s outright conquest of the debut. Their serpentine soloing snakes through each song, trading tirades of melodic scales on the last two tracks in particular. It’s their electric presence that just about manages to distract from the fact that, as much fun as the material is, it’s also distinctly generic. You have most definitely heard these riffs before, even from the strings of these very same musicians. Stock themes abound, but are at least accentuated by the bulky modern production. Although, considering the infamy of those involved, I would have enjoyed a little more character in the sound – I particularly missed the presence of Alex Friberg’s bass, last seen wandering into the dark of the mix.
If you count yourself amongst those deplorables who investigate the numerical score before deciding to read the review, I insist you make an exception. Firespawn have delivered an album of enjoyable Swedish death metal that’s just as much fun as it might be generic. The irony of penalizing a group of musicians for utilizing a signature they toiled and travailed to originate isn’t lost on me – I’m pretty sure, in this instance, that self-derivation can still be defined as creativity, especially when compared to their legion of imitators. Be sure to check your elitism at the door and take The Reprobate at face value – it’s immediacy and relevancy is still worthy of your time.