Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Firth of Damnation - Carpe Diem (2008) 85/100.

Firth of Damnation have come as a huge but pleasant surprise. ‘Carpe Diem’ is proving to be a huge hit amongst those that know of its existence and rightly so. This sophomore full-length tends be to quite technical in its approach as it features a hell-of-a-lot of multi-layering with a range of different things all going on at once. From the subtle approach of the synths, to the militaristic drumming and multi-faceted approach of the guitars, this album provides evidence of the capabilities of US black metal along the same lines as associated band Chaos Moon, an act with whom one of the session members has had experience of playing in and alongside Nvathron in his other project, In Ruins. I’d imagine Nvathron has made full use of his friendship with the various session members he’s used throughout his time with Firth of Damnation as the sheer extent of the multi-layering seems to require at least a second pair of hands to help out, especially in regards to the guitaring as one set of riffs are certainly more technically sound than the other. Having said that, it is still a possibility that Nvathron has solely created the material himself.

He appears to be capable of doing so given the sheer vision behind this release in its most basic form though, in order to see this album in its most basic form, it requires a fair amount of stripping down due to the levels of experimentation that occur throughout the course of the album. Only through the ambient tracks does the album slow down in its progress, take a breath and start again. Although this band occasionally gets likened to fellow American acts like Judas Iscariot and so on, Nvathron’s Firth of Damnation tend to have a more varied approach to black metal, mixing evocative ambient into the experimental journey. As a previous reviewer pointed out, this album is split into a series of different sections, though this is a subtle ploy throughout the course of the album. Two black metal tracks are soon proceeded by a fully instrumental ambient track, some of which, like ‘Day Dreams To Nightmares’, remind me of a better produced, more technically sound version of Varg’s prison work. It’s difficult to pinpoint references or influences behind the creation because the music is fairly original through its use of primitive black metal elements, with the distant vocals spearheading this department, and comforting ambiance.

These two very different sections of instrumentation are juxtaposed to great affect with the subtle synths proving to be a very worthwhile addition to this rather visceral album. I would have expected the vocals to have become overwhelming at some stage, since they’re a constant outlet for the negativity, as shown on songs like ‘Impending Demise’ where the lyrical content actually becomes very clear with the words in the track name becoming spewed forth again and again in a very demonic fashion. This is an album which, strangely, embraces a sense of repetition and creativity at the same time. The drums, which appear to be programmed, are a very militaristic asset. They’re fairly repetitive but work well alongside the backbone of the guitar portrayal which, in itself, is also very repetitive. Although the album tends to be fairly dynamic, songs like the brilliant ‘Under Death’s Haven’ tend to be quite formulaic, especially in terms of the riffing. However, songs like this are as catchy as they come, making use of repetition in an exquisite fashion. The production is also fantastic. It embraces the chaos, whilst making sure never to underestimate the role of the ambiance and synths.

Songs like ‘The Art of Day and Night’ highlight what I’m talking about fairly well. The layering of the guitars is essential on songs like this as one provides a very repetitive base, whilst the other is far more dynamic and, alongside the synths, much more experimental, adding to the depth of the atmosphere. At first, the album can sound fairly shallow in terms of its atmosphere but, as you progress, the album slowly reveals itself to be quite technical and very adept at functioning on a less superficial level, becoming more profound as each section ends with a stirring ambient song, as shown on the emotionally draining, yet eerily beautiful ‘Forever In The Flame’, a song which makes great use of Chaos Moon-esque ambiance, in particular, like that shown on ‘Languor, Into Echoes Beyond’. Nvathron’s use of subtle synths amidst chaotic distortion reminds me somewhat of Vindsval of Blut Aus Nord and The Eye, a band whom Firth of Damnation have actually covered in recent years. Nvathron appears to have what it takes to be as successful as Vindsval, although Firth of Damnation could do with a permanent drummer or, at least, a session drummer who will set in and provide the goods every time Nvathron wishes to enter the studio. Regardless of that small issue, this is an album which grows more in stature each time you listen to. Perhaps ‘Carpe Diem’ could be labelled as an “undiscovered gem”.

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