Firienholt – By the Waters of Awakening Review

By the waters of awakening, this review is late! Holy Hell. I’m normally pretty punctual, but somehow I forgot to check my dates and consult my various calendars, and that means that this review of Firienholt’s debut full-length album By the Waters of Awakening comes in way after its release. The British trio almost didn’t make it through the promo sump, too, for reasons that are above my pay grade (or below, depending on the orientation in which you’ve been strung up in the Skull Pit). Thankfully, a certain cuddly shark man—and permanent list buddy—adamantly reminded the staff of Firienholt’s upcoming opus and that we should take notice. Notice I did. Now only one question remains: was it worth it?

Firienholt sound pretty much exactly as you’d expect based solely on this album art. Falling somewhere in the center of a Venn diagram split between atmospheric black metal, symphonic folk-ish metal, and dungeonsynth, By the Waters of Awakening offers an experience that not only relaxes and soothes, but also evokes a desire for bone-chilling winter to return forthwith. Tambourines, flutes, strings, trumpets and French horns, and glistening synths decorate a light dusting of blackened frost across a wondrous landscape of mournful melodies and heartfelt verses. This is not an album for headbanging. It is not an album for The Pit™. It is not an album for pillaging, bloodshed, or gleeful bodily mutilation.1 You listen to By the Waters of Awakening to be transported and calmed, to reflect and contemplate in peaceful serenity.

“A Forgotten Legacy” and “Ashes of the Golden Hall” paint the most beautiful of these serene environments for me to admire. Both are total sleepers. My first listen created an odd sense that Firienholt was mailing it in, and I balked at the slow pace, the light guitar tone, and the frosted synths. After two or three more, however, I began to appreciate that these songs harbor substantial depth, both emotionally and musically. The layering of these instruments blooms brilliantly with each passing moment, not one element overpowering or fighting any other. This balance of composition not only enhances my immersion into the material, but also maintains my desire to return to these songs in particular. “Ruminations by Starlight” similarly satisfies, as its clean chorus pairs very nicely with the heavily layered instrumentation behind it, with ominous chords and threatening blasts dealing an enjoyable contrast in mood just afterwards.

However, By the Waters of Awakening fails to earn higher praise for two simple, but important, reasons. Firstly, this record is terribly bloated. Every song, including the highlights, would be twice as compelling should Firienholt have cut two minutes minimum from each. The band crafted this album in such a way that it flows quite smoothly from beginning to end, but it nevertheless drags me along at a frustratingly funereal pace. Some detours into adrenaline-fueled speed, or maybe even just a few hooky riffs placed in choice locales, would solve this issue splendidly. Secondly, the content that I retain easily after my listening sessions conclude only comprise a scant fifteen or twenty minutes of this fifty-six minute album. That leaves well over half an hour of forgettable material that is pleasant to hear, but doesn’t stick with me for the long haul.

This is not a record for which I harbor many complaints, but it’s also one for which I offer only moderate praise. I am fully aware that I am not Firienholt’s primary audience, as I prefer metal which meets a higher engagement threshold. However, By the Waters of Awakening offers a lot of pleasant listening for those looking for music that would be perfect on a winter stroll. The experience is soothing to the senses, emotionally intimate and deceivingly immersive. With that in mind, I look forward to Firienholt’s future releases in the hopes that they will grow to meet their potential.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 160 kb/s mp3
Label: Naturmacht Productions
Releases Worldwide: June 11th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. This is not an album for the AMG weight throwing cubicle either. – Steel
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