Fires in the Distance – Air Not Meant for Us Review

Back in September 2020, as the UK enjoyed respite between Covid lockdowns, and the air started to grow colder and the leaves duller with the promise of autumn, I heard Echoes from Deep November, the debut of melodic death metallers Fires in the Distance. It sounded—to my ears—like no one else, despite having elements reminiscent of Omnium Gatherum, Amorphis, and Be’lakor. And it stayed with me long after the leaves were dead and fallen. Fast-forward two and a bit years, when the singles from sophomore Air Not Meant for Us began to drop, and I was flooded with nostalgia and excitement as I heard that signature sound again. A breath of fresh air, this time coming with the rise of spring, as the buds bloom and the sun finally reaches this wasted isle. Everything seemed yet more lustrous and epic than before. This shine would surely wear off with time, after listening to the album many multiple times. Right?

Reader: it has not. Air Not Meant for Us is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard this year, and it deepens and strengthens Fires’ yearning, invigorating foundation. Their music continues to be built around powerful, uplifting themes, carried by soaring guitars and scale-climbing keys. Now comes the additional touch of strings, lightly accenting some of the more surging moments. Perhaps taking note of Steel‘s former criticism, while these themes carry notes of coherence, the band do not repeat them across the record, allowing for natural evolution over the runtime. This feels more melancholic and introspective than Echoes…, and musically leans harder on the pathos that can be wrought from the minor melodies and the way they dance, airborne, in contrast to the robust riffing and earthen growls. Despite a slight shift to a sound doomier in every sense, closing track “Idiopathic Despair” calls back. It mirrors older song “Elusive Light” in both its rolling uptempo, energetic keyboards, and the inclusion of more pithy words from Christopher Hitchens, as the song’s protagonist comes to terms with their death. It’s a punchy and ultimately heartening end, but what comes before is no less rousing, in a somber sort of way.

Melody is key here, and these melodies are downright gorgeous, and affecting. Fires are adept at giving their main refrains ample space to spread their wings as they rise up from complimentary riffs and keys (“Harbingers,” “Crumbling Pillars of a Tranquil Mind”) or with clever uses of silence (“Psalm of the Merciless”). This amplifies their emotional resonance, as does the focus on gliding paces that give riffs and rippling piano a dramatic feel, especially as the pace builds and the instruments reach their apexes (“Wisdom of the Falling Leaves,” “Crumbling…”). A literal centerpiece for this melodic vitality is “Adrift, Beneath the Listless Waves.” You’d think that inserting a six-minute instrumental right in the middle of the album would cause issues with flow. But it doesn’t at all. It’s also one of the better-constructed songs of the bunch and shimmers with beautifully dappled keyboards around surging, dazzling lead work.1 Here, as across the record (“Wisdom…,” “Psalm…”), keys carry a notable portion of the tune, and their own fragile wistfulness. A wistfulness expressed by Kenstrosity as “like floating in a nebula and mourning the eventual death of all the stars in it.” This kind of dreaminess shines out of the music, purified either in leads forlorn and drifting (“Harbingers,” “Crumbling…,” “Psalm…”) or fluttering and dramatic (“Adrift…,” “Idiopathic Despair”).

Keen emotionality is one thing that sets Air… apart from Echoes…; another is composition. While longer than its predecessor, and more lingering, the time spent dwelling on or returning to refrains doesn’t feel wasted. There’s still a tiny shadow that could be shaved away–perhaps repetitions of “Crumbling…” and “Idiopathic Despair.” But this is to be excessively critical. In truth, the itinerant ardor of “Idiopathic Despair” and growing waves of melodic drama that characterize the somber “Crumbling,” feel earned. So too does the ballad of “Harbingers,” the mountains and valleys of “Adrift…,” and the solemn “Psalm…” with its sublime rising motif that returns from a dramatic, invigorating bridge. There is no ‘filler’ here, only the dips and ascents of beautifully orchestrated melodic metal.

If listening to Echoes was like running through the forest, listening to Air is like soaring above it. Fires have realized the affective potential their debut whispered of, turning it to a cry of unignorable feeling, beautiful and strong. It deserves to be heard.

Rating: Great
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 28th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. James Tomedi of Burial in the Sky makes a guest appearance here.
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