Black Royal – Firebride Review

Oh, Finland. Whenever metal gets boring, you’re always there to punch me in the back of the skull until I spew straight spine. In 2018, Black Royal provided the required donkey punch with one of the year’s most potent debuts. Lightbringer was an amalgamation of all that makes an apocalyptic mid-pace so great. The band’s sludged out death metal acts as a conduit for what is clearly a steadfast dedication to rhythm, but one that never fails to hold the attention. While I may have cooled on Lightbringer by a meager .5, I still hold the record in high regard. Now, these ebon emperors have returned with Firebride and, as with any follow-up, the question remains the same. Can the lightning once so meticulously bottled be captured again? And the lands quake and the seas swell and palm-mutes deafen the void…

Firebride is wed to nothing less than the almighty riff. Where Lightbringer swore fealty to doom tempos and a penchant for expansion, these elements have now been pressured into a stable compound with the kind of force that sunders flesh from bone. Stylistically, Firebride is no departure. The huge yet simplistic riffs reliably crush and vocalist Riku Niemelä presides over the record like a furious volcano god, descended from his broiling perch to seethe hot ash on the village below. Firebride‘s only distinction is an elevation in the already astute penmanship. The writing is now entirely capable of carving the band’s mission statement into the frontal lobe, and that’s exactly what this record does.

The modification is present in Firebride‘s ability to streamline the same nuances that emboldened Lightbringer‘s impact. For all its density, the debut was a surprisingly creative record and Firebride never forgoes similar bombast. The evocative atmosphere and overt doom aren’t absent; instead, they are alive in the opening strings of “Coven” and the impending finale of “All Them Witches.” Closer “For the Dead Travel Fast” features a classic doom structure accentuated by a stirring female vocal guest spot. These select moments are so well incorporated, they never feel carelessly tacked on. The opening three songs are some of the strongest I’ve heard in some time, and it’s almost uniquely thanks to Toni Majores’ immediate guitar lines. His approach to robust rhythm affords Firebride its luster. Although “All Them Witches” is a great song, I don’t love it as much as the others, and “313” is another pointless placeholder instrumental. But it’s impossible not to enjoy everything the album offers. I could also do without the insistent use of feedback to open songs, but when tracks like “Hail Yourself” are so good, it’s a little hard to care.

While Black Royal‘s Scandinavian death metal roots are prevalent in the vocals, the music tips more than a nod to riff-smiths like Matt Pike and Pepper Keenan. The latter’s N.O.L.A influence is particularly present on the infectious “Gods of War.” Such killer cuts are made even more choice by Petri Kantola’s rampant bass tone, which regularly emits a pulse to worry seismologists the world over. Its immovable presence in the mix accents the title track and affects a great synergy with Majores’ tasteful use of the wah-wah peddle on “The Reverend.” Throughout its brief playtime, Firebride‘s composite parts insistently remind us how well-considered the beating it provides really is.

Black Royal have proved that, in a burgeoning world of musical extremes, an album can still be defined by great fucking songs. In that sense, Firebride is an old fashioned record. Its one-track mind exists only to plow ocean-trench grooves and rattle the bones, but it never allows a rigid blueprint to define its process. If you feel your neighbors might be concerned that your tastes have become unnervingly tolerable, or are simply experiencing a dearth of great riffs, then allow Firebride to right such egregious wrongs. Its unabashed pugilism will spread noses within all and any audible frequencies.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Suicide Records
Websites: suiciderecordsfinland.bandcamp | facebook.com/blackroyalmusic
Releases Worldwide: February 14th, 2020

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