Review Summary: A masterclass in merging beauty and brutality.
“Harbingers” is a monolithic statement of intent if I’ve ever heard one. Rain effects and gloomy keyboard work set the stage for a melodious-yet-crushing 10 minutes of death/doom, all helmed by the bellowing gutturals and agonized screeches of guitarist/vocalist Kristian Grimaldi and bassist/vocalist Craig Breitsprecher. What really stands out about this opening salvo is that the group aren’t afraid to play around with melody, often slipping in dramatic piano arpeggios amidst the brutality, and even the heaviest moments are imbued with a sense of melancholy and dread. After all, these guys are often considered melodic
death/doom. Regardless, “Harbingers” is one hell of a thesis statement for the rest of the songs on Air Not Meant for Us
to build upon.
And boy, do they ever; every track here, while working within the stylistic framework of the opener, still retains a unique identity of its own. Though not a concept album (not that I know of, anyway), Connecticut doom-metallers Fires in the Distance’s second full-length is equal parts diverse and consistent, weaving in and out of several genres and textures while never losing its overall focus. The second track “Wisdom of the Falling Leaves”, while being a more straightforward affair than its predecessor, still throws in a nice helping of downcast keys and downtuned tremolo guitars to keep the sorrowful atmosphere intact; meanwhile, the double-bass drum work is working overtime to keep the momentum going. I simply love albums that create a synthesis of brutality and melancholic beauty, and Air Not Meant for Us
is one such affair: for every pulverizing riff or chug, you can be sure that a piano-led gothic interlude will be just around the corner. Or, such as the ending of “Wisdom of the Falling Leaves”, they might just fuse the two together.
Speaking of “gothic”, that’s really the right word to describe the vibe of Air Not Meant for Us
. Other words such as “funereal” or “downcast” certainly apply too, but the atmospheric passages of the record give off the feeling of being in a dark, empty cathedral in the dead of night. Take the beginning of “Adrift, Beneath the Listless Waves” for instance: the combination of symphonic keys and minimalistic piano melodies is just… for lack of a better word, haunting. And then, once the strident guitars join the fray and light up the sky, there’s something almost indescribable about the emotional weight they bring to the piece. Hell, the vocals don’t even come in during all of this; the band just lets the moment speak for itself, eventually capping the whole thing off with a soaring guitar solo to seal the deal. As strange as it may sound, despite all of the misery and dejection that imbues Air Not Meant for Us
, the record’s melodic leanings actually create an odd sense of comfort and hope.
Perhaps the most notable stylistic departure comes in the form of the closer “Idiopathic Despair”, which trades off between clean (albeit deep) spoken word vocals and the band’s typical harsh growls. The tempos shifts are a bit more frequent here as well, courtesy of a solid performance by drummer Jordan Rippe, allowing for some variety to come into play. However, the final result still perfectly matches the overall vision of Air Not Meant for Us
, which is to say that it maintains the record’s penchant for bludgeoning doom riffs and umbral melodies. If this is only Fires in the Distance’s second offering, then I think they have one hell of a bright future ahead of them, despite the bleak images their music conjures. Air Not Meant for Us
is an incredible slice of death-doom with a highly melodic character, and a record that’s not afraid to let atmosphere and heaviness mingle with each other on a frequent basis. And hey, doom metal could always use more gothic keyboard passages, right?