Alda – A Distant Fire Review

How was I supposed to pass on that album cover? Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. That the associated album was labelled as “blackened folk metal”—or “atmospheric black metal” on the trusty Encyclopaedia—was icing on the cake, but really, I was drawn in by the album art. A Distant Fire is the fourth full-length release from the American Alda, which I’m told means “tree” in a language invented by J.R.R. Tolkien. Without having heard a note of this thing, all of the pieces seemed to be coming together, and I was excited to dive into the group’s first release after six years of dormancy. How much does the music in that embed match up with the art on that cover?

Before I answer that, I, unfortunately, have to talk about the thing I like least about A Distant Fire, because it’s immediately apparent when “Stonebreaker” begins. Despite being an album of predominantly black metal, A Distant Fire assaults the listener with all the power of a penne lisce noodle, cooked al dente. Despite blast beats, tremolo riffs, and blistering rasps, there is no immediacy to this album, no heft, no adrenaline, no power—at some point, all of it was sucked away in the production process. “Stormbreaker” is unmistakably black metal, but it does not feel like black metal. The tremolos are too faint, the rasps too withered, and the drums and bass may as well not exist for all they add to the track. It’s not that the song is bad, mind you—Alda know their way around a melody, and I will get to that—but power and force are nowhere to be found on A Distant Fire, an album filled with songs unmistakably constructed to be powerful and forceful.

“Stormbreaker” is not, however, the opening track on A Distant Fire; that would be the phenomenal “First Light,” an acoustic tune in the vein of Wolcensmen that brings together a few acoustic leads and simple strings to create a beautiful, natural atmosphere. Unlike the metal across the album, these acoustic verses are crisp, clear, and gorgeous, and it’s altogether astonishing that there can be such a difference in sound from one track to another. Songs like “Drawn Astray” do a really good job of mixing in acoustic interludes, reminding of October Falls. The result is a series of very well-constructed songs that play with variations of similar melodies across acoustic and electric styles. As the album progresses, it feels like Alda have taken cues from the likes of Falls of Rauros and Winterfylleth to create their expansive sound. The common, brief interludes and general refusals to stay in the same place too long speak to their capabilities as songwriters. With only six songs stretching fifty-one minutes, this is certainly an important aspect of their sound.

As you may have guessed, the best moments of A Distant Fire are the ones in which Alda dial back on the metal, which really is unfortunate. Owing to the weak production, a lot of moments that should be inspired fall flat, like the triumphant riffs on “Forlorn Peaks,” or the lead melody in “Stonebreaker,” which overpowers the drumming far too strongly, because the drums are just that quiet. It so often feels like Alda are just missing the mark, and it’s hard not to feel as though a different approach in the production phase might have mitigated all of it. Midway through the title track, for example, a gorgeous clean interlude cuts through the wall of vague riffs; it is quickly layered with strings, chants, and a hypnotizing drum pattern, and becomes one of the most memorable moments on the album, without an electric instrument to be heard. After a while, the pattern becomes hard to miss: the metal just isn’t heavy enough.

A Distant Fire has been a very frustrating album to review, because I really want to like it. I feel like Alda have so much going for them that should work, but doesn’t—in this case. This is the sort of album I want to really lose myself in, catching the minute details and finding the subtle traces of majesty that set it apart from its contemporaries. I can’t do that here, which makes this well-written, solid offering feel too generic for me to strongly recommend, which honestly feels like an incredible shame.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eisenwald Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: October 8th, 2021

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