Two years ago I picked up the debut album from Connecticut melodic death metal band Fires In The Distance on a whim because they were a newly minted part of the Prosthetic Records roster, who have brought some of the best up-and-coming metal acts to my attention over the years. Having returned again and again to the fantastic Echoes From Deep November, with each listen only increasing my love of the album, the announcement of their sophomore release, Air Not Meant For Us immediately placed me on high alert.
Produced by Randy Slough, the recording was split with drums deftly handled by the new addition behind the kit Jordan Rippe captured at the Power Station in New England and the remainder at Studio Wormwood in Asheville, North Carolina. The album also features a guest appearance from Burial In The Sky guitarist James Tomedi and live orchestration of piano, violins, violas and cellos by Randy Slaugh as the band have sought to capitalise on the critical acclaim of their previous outing and raise the bar further.
As so skilfully handled on their 2020 album, to truly appreciate everything going on with Fires In The Distance latest output, it is worth noting that this is not your traditional death metal battering but a doom paced, incredibly layered and diverse musical odyssey that has more in common with the likes of Ahab and My Dying Bride than the ferocious assault of a band like Death or Cannibal Corpse. Despite the almost blackened snarl of vocalist Kristian Grimaldi, ably backed up by Craig Breitsprecher on bass, they manage to wring a surprising amount of emotion out of the guttural ‘from the depths of hell’ style delivery executed across the six tracks which span an epic fifty-five minutes.
This storm of complexity is heralded by the sound of rain and piano as Harbingers begins in an almost gentle and unassuming manner before it morphs into a stately and grandiose thunder of machine gun-like double bass and luscious synths that move in an orchestral way before the vocals remind you that you are embarking on a dark journey that seeks to dissect the human psyche. Opting for a sombre lament, rather than vicious brutality, the band create a dense atmosphere that cuts deeper than the sweeping majesty of the composition would suggest.
Regardless of the genre, Air Not Meant For Us is a truly beautiful-sounding album and it is remarkable how consistently they carve out these tunes. From the mesmerising and soulful solos to the tender and melodic interludes that mean when the band turn the screw on the heavy aspects of their spectrum, it is an artistic and sonic triumph that is echoed, not only in the music but also thematically in the continuation of the lyrical story and accompanying artwork from Caelan Stokkermans.
The epic opener gives way to the more succinct Wisdom Of Falling Leaves as once again the cavernous sounds of the drums beat down with machine-like precision propelling the track onwards. Less infused with the additional flourishes than the previous track, it would still not be described as stripped down but feels more urgent and focused, imbued with classical arrangements that mean when they do allow the respite of the quiet breakouts, it only serves to emphasise the heavier crunch when it kicks back in.
This is high art to leave you battered and bruised and wanting more…
Continuing the themes of their debut, Crumbling Pillars Of A Tranquil Mind is the most overt reference to the fact that this album is an extension of the discourse on mental health. The gorgeous sweeping pace maintains the tension and power of the first few tracks and languidly steers you into choppy water where the duelling barks and rasps carve out a tale of intense and almost suffocating isolation. Once again set against a backdrop of the rich songwriting scope, the band almost envelop you, before dragging you down with the assertion that ‘no one is coming for you’. As complex musically as the subject matter, Fires In The Distance construct a suffocatingly intense, immersive tapestry using the full range of their vision from weeping strings to scything riffs.
Ending abruptly, they transition into the harmonies of the instrumental Adrift, Beneath the Listless Waves, enhanced by the considerable talents of the Burial In The Sky guitarist, the dextrous piano keys are overlaid with the additional skills that make this centrepiece an eye-of-the-storm moment of tranquillity that will be hard to be rivalled this year. As they move through the shortest track on the album, they never once cause the listener to lose focus, in fact, the considerable elegance of the piece allows the listener to pause to simply marvel at the talents and chemistry of the players.
After this ray of sunshine in the darkness, the band doesn’t break the spell entirely but eases back into the heavyweight subject matter with the final pairing of Psalm Of The Merciless and Idiopathic Despair. These two pieces see them continue the incredible arrangements with yet more dazzling fretwork offset by the expanded additional elements.
The former being a more urgent and searching track with almost an almost hook-like chorus and the latter adds sampled voices that seek to round out the album with a determined sense of perseverance to augment the more intangible threads of existentialism. This manifests itself in a stamping, driving pace as if they are trying to shake off the fog that surrounds them and stops short of offering hope but elevates them beyond just wallowing in misery for misery’s sake.
Fires In The Distance have built on their incredible debut and have shown greater progression than I dared imagine. Air Not Meant For Us hits on so many levels, from the artistic packaging that was meant for a vinyl release, to the simply massive sonic depth shown throughout the album. This is high art to leave you battered and bruised and wanting more.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden