Okeanos by Firtan

Release date: July 13, 2018
Label: AOP Records

Firtan are a metal band from Germany and Okeanos is their second full-length album. They’re promoted broadly as black metal, and first track ‘Seegang’ bears a lot of those hallmarks, with its pummelling drums and screamed vocals, but initial impressions can be misleading. A few more plays and you begin to see how varied and complex their music is, and how there’s a whole lot more going on. For a start, there’s a serious nod to Gothenburg-style melodic death metal a la At the Gates, plus some American metalcore influences too. Phillip Thienger’s vocals in particular and some of the riffing remind me of early Killswitch with Jesse Leach (first time around). There’s a whole heap of melodic hooks too – the songs are layered, with interesting twists and turns, and there are riffs that just pull you in. There’s also a lot of progressive intent, with ambient interludes and additional instruments like a cello (I think) in the middle of ‘Nacht verweil’.

‘Seegang’ sets the stage well with a brooding intro of deep chanting and German spoken voiceover. All lyrics are in German, and judging from the lyric sheet the whole album is inspired by Nietzsche (he’s mentioned in quotes). Then there’s a seething build up to a crescendo of galloping guitar riffs and Phillip’s furious vocals. It’s broken up periodically with acoustic guitar interludes (reminiscent of Opeth or Porcupine Tree). The push and pull, the build of musical tension followed by release, is very effective. An excellent start to the album.

The pace and thrill continues to build on this strong start, with the next two tracks, ‘Tag verweil’ and ‘Nacht verweil’. The first starts with a pummelling rhythm and hooky melody. It’s also crushingly heavy in parts, and this is where the metalcore influences shine through the brightest. The guitar playing is fabulous – I just love the movement and pace, and the virtuosity too. ‘Nacht verweil’ has an infectious guitar lick that it keeps returning to: this is heavy metal as it should be – fast, exciting, thrilling. It’s the best track on the album. It’s all counterpoised by the cello and acoustic guitar parts halfway through, yet these sections don’t sound bolted on as they so often can do, but really part of the song. ‘Uferlos’ and closer ‘Siebente, letzte Einsamkeit’ finish the album in similar form, and it all goes together to make a very well-crafted metal album. It takes a few listens for the different parts to coalesce into a piece of work that is far greater than the sum of its parts. All in all, Okeanos combines to make a varied and engaging album, which really helped me to get into it as I’m not a fan of monothematic, heads-down, one-gear ‘metal’. Highly recommended.

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