There are few genres in music that have a deeper and more fundamental connection to nature and history than black metal. From its earliest thematic inception, the most evil of metal’s subgenres has sought to restore through music and philosophy a way of life that, for the most part, has been buried in the annals of history by the ascension of Christianity in Europe. Paganism, in particular, has been a black metal mainstay for decades, and if bands like Arkona and Moonsorrow have anything to do with it, will remain so for the foreseeable future. Joining such folk and paganism-influenced company is Germany’s Firtan, who with their second full-length record Okeanos have reached the towering heights established be subgenre predecessor like Windir, creating music that celebrates black metal’s past while being completely unafraid to dive boldly into its sonic future. In short, it’s pretty fantastic.
Given the names above, it would be fairly safe to assume that Firtan follow in a similar sonic path. Frost-bitten guitars, relentless blasts, occasional acoustic meanderings, and the like. While Firtan’s latest most certainly includes some of those elements throughout, the heart of Okeanos resides primarily in the more atmospheric camp. Think more along the lines of Alcest or Imperium Dekadenz than Bathory. This is an album filled with bombastic, highly emotional sounds that take major melodic detours throughout their mission of audio destruction. Opener “Seegang” should make that abundantly clear, with its haunting throat singing and spoken word passages, all undergirded by the sounds of waves crashing against a beach. It all has a fairly Saor vibe to it, until the drums, guitar, and vocals all explode into a militant rhythm that displays the band’s ability to change tempo and intensity at the drop of a hat with ease. This is a trait that pervades the album, as these tracks vacillate between gorgeous and gruesome with neck-snapping rapidity. The album’s second track “Tag Verweil” builds on the above premise with even more ferocity than the album’s effective opening statement, expelling riff after riff with abject ferocity while never losing a primary sense of melody.
And that, above all, is what the record does best. The melodic structure of Okeanos is as well-constructed as you will come by in this type of music without ever losing its sense of heft and potency. “Nacht Veweil” is one of the earliest examples of the band’s penchant for the highly melodic. Sandwiched in the middle of two near Der Weg einer Freiheit-level passages of blast-filled emoting, a gorgeous acoustic section opens the band’s sound to an entirely new sonic world. Acoustic and electric guitars vie for supremacy over a fundamentally gorgeous string section, all eventually granted additional expansiveness by some nifty drum work. It’s a fantastic segue that adds an incredible amount of depth to the track and record, and continues as a theme throughout.
The band isn’t shy about their atmospheric tendencies either, as the aforementioned Alcest reference would indicate. Instrumental track “Purpur” is highly reminiscent of that particular band’s approach to black metal, but could also be a passage found in a Bosse-De-Nage record as well. As stated previously, while deeply rooted in folk/pagan black metal’s adherence to thematic tradition, Firtan have no issue incorporating sounds that would fit nicely into multiple different black metal camps, and bless them for it. This willingness to highlight a variety of sounds from within the metal world at large allowed them to write tracks like the incredible “Uferlos” and gargantuan finale “Siebente, Letzte Einsamkeit”, which together create over 15 minutes of diverse sonic bliss. It’s a fitting end to a fantastic record.
Albums like Okeanos are that rare breed of music that balance adherence to tradition with a pressing need to expand upon established sounds. Firtan accomplish this balance from Okeanos‘ eerie start to its cataclysmic finish, and in the process have created one of the most memorable releases in this musical space this year. If you have yet to hear this record and enjoy experimental, atmospheric, or folk/pagan black metal, don’t hesitate to give this record a spin. It’s well worth your while.
Okeanos is out now through AOP Records, and is available for purchase in physical and digital formats through the label’s Bandcamp page.