I like video games. I like metal. But what about when the latter draws its inspiration from the former? In the world of consumer media, video games + anything typically stands synonymous with absolutely horrendous quality. Film in particular has had a rough go in bringing video games to life in a meaningful or quality-driven manner. Thinking mainly about the film versions of properties like Assassin’s Creed, Silent Hill, Doom, Resident Evil, so on and so forth. Some of us may have a moderate level of attachment to these films due to their nostalgic value, but there are few who would argue that any represent quality storytelling or innovative filmmaking. Literature hasn’t fared any better, with most video game-based book series resulting in nothing more than cheap money grabs by developers and publishers who want to milk as much cash as possible from their products.
This veritable dearth of worthwhile cross-pollination between video games and almost all other forms of media outside of a console has not translated to music, however, especially when considering its relationship with metal. Well known and respected bands like Tomb Mold, Visigoth, and Soulmass have based releases at least in part on FromSoftware’s Soulsborne series to great effect, unleashing records that have shown up on many a year-end list around these parts.
Georgia-based atmospheric black metallers Firelink followed in this now hallowed (or hollowed?) Soulsborne tradition with their debut release The Inveterate Fire, which firmly established them as a band to watch in the fast-growing subgenre. The surprise release of their self-titled sophomore album sparked a heavy amount of interest in the metal world, and I’m pleased to say that, to these ears, Firelink have exceeded the already lofty expectations placed upon their undead, ashen shoulders.
Whether or not you have immersed yourself in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s dark and punishing fantasy world, Firelink offers plenty to enjoy for n00bs and the thoroughly entrenched alike. Exposure to either record’s source material is not necessary to understand or enjoy Firelink’s music, which is similar to the approaches to source content from the above-stated bands. If you enjoy your black metal a little bit atmospheric, a lot bit melodic, and wholesale ferocious, Firelink are serving up the kind of sonic meal you’ll finish off with relish and return to for subsequent helpings. To a fault, the songwriting and production here is deeper, richer, and heavier than that presented in the band’s debut. At five tracks and 42 minutes in length, Firelink presents a full-throated assault on the senses from its opening frame.
“Cerulean Athenaeum” kicks things off with a robust, diverse set of guitar arrangements that do plenty to introduce the uninitiated to their sound before blasting off into black metal hell. Both starkly immediate and sneakily complex, the track ebbs and flows with all the menace and majesty of a Hellkite Dragon, pummeling listeners with vicious blast beats and tremolo picking only to eventually blossom into an airy synth-laden passage that feels breathless and transcendent. It’s a fantastic blend of the sounds that make Firelink the unique and thoroughly interesting band they are, but it’s only the first of five courses for listeners to engorge themselves with.
The album’s second track opens on a much more atmospheric note, highlighting the band’s continued ability to balance melody and gentility with audio violence. Slower and more deliberate than its precursor, “Where Demons Bore” adds an almost doom-like dirge to the proceedings that jumps in and out of passages of lightning-fast riffage that coalesce to create a track that further establishes the band’s diverse abilities. The solo towards the end of this track is also excellent, adding further fuel to the band’s raging fire of black metal goodness.
“Cloak of Marrow” continues to build on these themes of balance, working a punk-infused drum pattern into an old school thrasher that is one of the album’s most exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable moments. But it’s “Kingseeker” that takes the crown for me, rolling through nine minutes of highly atmospheric black metal that are among the most effective and potent the band have yet written. It’s a fantastic track that sets up closer “End of Piety” perfectly, sending us off into the fiery unknown with all the high quality black metal we can stomach.
While the songwriting is uniformly excellent, the band’s continued evolution as musicians also deserves a note of praise. Harrison Stivarius’ guitar work in particular is nothing short of exceptional, balancing melody and madness with the surefooted confidence of a much more seasoned musician. vocalist Adrian Davis is no less talented and essential to the album’s success. Just listen to the infernal roars he conjures in “End of Piety” for proof of his particular brand of magic. On the whole, Firelink feels heavier and more menacing than its predecessor, which can be partly attributed to Stivarius and Davis’ exceptional musicianship and songwriting.
But it’s the production here that makes such an enormous difference, with a mix that is as close to perfect as one could ask for with this brand of black metal. The drums pop with impassioned depth and menace, while the guitars are both deep and rich in tone and timbre, never allowing the pummeling percussion to overtake them as the album’s driving melodic voice. It’s a combination of elements that make some of the most wildly engaging songwriting and performances of the year sound equally enthralling.
There’s little contained in Firelink to be upset about. It’s a record that builds on the band’s sterling debut in every way, catapulting Firelink from a potential one-hit oddity to full blown heavy-hitters in a scene chock full of them. Whether or not you are as enamored with the Soulsborne series as I, you cannot go wrong giving this record the undivided attention it deserves. Blending two passions into a seamless and uncompromising whole, Stivarius and Davis have here created a bold statement of intent that I have not been able to stop listening to since its release. A thoroughly fantastic record that I recommend highly and with great enthusiasm. Praise the sun.
Firelink is out now and available for purchase on Bandcamp.