Heiress – Distant Fires Review

Heiress, wonder where they came up with that name,” snickered a member of staff called … um … Pronos, as I alerted all the writers who care Cherd to incoming melodic sludge. Now look, I get what Pronos was getting at but there was a time when Baroness were not a meme nor a byword for some of the worst production in metal alt rock. When split A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk dropped in 2007, followed later the same year by Red AlbumBaroness were offering something genuinely different and interesting, and there is a reason they have come to be such A Big Deal. Of course, they have now become a parody of themselves but that doesn’t mean other, less well-known acts need go down the same path. Although if you listen to Heiress’ second album, 2015’s Of Great Sorrow, you might wonder because, wow, that production is … not good. On fourth full-length, Distant Fires, the progressive Seattle sludgers return, now a quartet and sporting a new label. So, what smolders yonder?

Distant Fires does not represent a significant change of direction for Heiress. Rather it builds upon the foundation laid by 2017’s Made Wrong—ironically, a significantly better written, better-produced record than its predecessor, Of Great Sorrow—and is a slab of pensive, sludgy post-hardcore. Brooding, meaty riffs and thunderous bass collide, as sparing, insistent drums bludgeon away behind the gurgling roars of vocalist John Pettibone (of metalcore stalwarts Himsa, among others). Sometimes leaning into the furious assault of Botch, but mostly closer to the monolithic stylings of Neurosis before relaxing into an ISIS vibe, Heiress share a significant amount of DNA with the hugely underrated Beak.1 At once bludgeoning and melodic, Distant Fires walks that difficult line of piling on the brooding, silvery harmonics, without losing the gritty, caustic edge that derives from the post-hardcore roots of much of what Heiress does.

A significant amount of credit for that must go to guitarist Wes Reed, whose ponderous, chugging riffs and blues-infused leads offer up a hugely pleasing and ever-changing canvas. At times, there is a progressive edge to proceedings but that is kept in check by Pettibone’s relentlessly harsh vocals, which gives the gorgeous, ISIS-like “Once Was” a keening edge of despair, while keeping album closer “Surviving You,” which with different vocals (or no vocals) would fit perfectly well into Daxma’s most recent reflective post-metal outing, firmly in sludge territory. Much like Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson, I can see Pettibone’s efforts on Distant Fires being divisive and, to be fair, they are a little one-note. Put alongside the sludgy atmospherics of the rhythm section and often setting off the more languid, honeyed guitar lines (“Collides”), however, they worked well for me.

Progressing over a trim 44 minutes, Heiress has honed and tightened its sound significantly compared to previous outings. Losing the second guitar has made Distant Fires starker, more stripped back than Made Wrong, but it is precisely this choice that allows the melodies to stand out, with the atmospheric, languid passages allowed room to breathe and resonate (“Beyond Devotions”), even as the abrasive, crushing guitar work hits harder (“Straying Eye”). For all that I like about Distant Fires—and there is plenty of that—it’s fair to say this is really a case of something being very well executed, rather than breaking any new frontiers or doing something genuinely different. Coupled with strong performances across the board and solid songwriting, however, the production does great job of showcasing what Heiress can do. It’s not polished but it gives the requisite raucous brashness to the heavy sections, while the guitar has a mellow, mournful tone that works against Pettibone’s howling fury.

Less the second coming of Baroness, and more a solid continuation of what Neurosis and ISIS spawned, Distant Fires is a very good album for those that like the style. It’s not going to convert any naysayers to overnight fans of progressive sludge or post-hardcore but if, like me, you’re already there, then this is a great addition to your collection. At once raging and sonorous, yearning and textured, Heiress are on their best form to date, at last fully delivering on the undoubted promise shown on 2013 debut Early Frost.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Satanik Royalty Records
Websites: heiress.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/heiressy
Releases Worldwide: December 3rd, 2021

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