Firebride by Black RoyalRelease date: February 14, 2020
Label: Suicide Records
2020 has already been an incredible year for new music, with my ears delightfully assaulted by fantastic new releases across all my favourite genres. There is however, only one metal release that has been hogging my time and that is Firebride by Finnish firebrands Black Royal. The band are new to me but they formed in Tampere, Finland in 2013 and this is their second full length release.
I stumbled across the band on a streaming service when last year’s taster tune ‘Pagan Saviour’ leapt out at me, stamped on my head and set my desk ablaze. Like much of this album, that song deals with Christianity persecuting and crushing ancient local beliefs. Much is made of the church’s toxic patriarchy in the Middle ages (and no doubt beyond) with women, especially, cast as keeper’s of an unholy flame that must be stamped out. The title track alludes to women being burnt at the stake and the cover depicts roots emerging from a pyre to skewer clerics. The band espouse a mixture of paganism and a smidgen of Anton La Vey’s take on Satanism, which this reviewer has certain sympathies with. That’s not to say there isn’t room for quirky humour, something the Finns are famed for – there’s an epic piece of atmospheric sludge metal here titled ‘All Them Witches’.
None of this would matter a jot if the rest of the album was the same old derivative racket, but I am here to tell you that front to back Firebride is an absolute triumph of accessible extreme metal. The bands sound is an ever-shifting morass of dark influences, whipping up a blackened death storm that recalls but never mimics the giants of the genres. ‘Hail Yourself’ stomps and rails like Behemoth battling Amon Amarth but adds a Motörhead-esque swinging rhythmic undertow which lets you know rock n roll is still in the house. In vocalist Riku too, they have an ace card, his voice is harsh gargle and he can bellow with the best of them, but every word can be understood and he is also able to carry a melody.
One of the highlights, the aforementioned ‘All Them Witches’ comes in on the type of diabolic riff that Slayer patented with a drum sound from Jukka that literally punches your ears. After 3 minutes of gleeful witchcraftery it slows to a sick, glacial sludge death rattle. As that fades a clean strummed acoustic guitar atop beautiful birdsong emerge to stunning effect on interlude ‘313’. That’s another strength of this album, samples and strings, choirs and clean female vocals are used sparingly and judiciously to excellent effect. In fact Anton LaVey himself can be heard on opener ‘Coven’, a song based on witness testimony from a witch trial in Sweden in 1670. Black Royal, like Rotting Christ or Behemoth take their craft seriously as can be seen in the excellent liner notes that accompany the album, information about each track available underneath the lyrics and a list of source literature at the end, like a novel. However, while this enriches the experience for the more dedicated listener you don’t need to know that, say, the excellent tv show ‘Vikings’ inspired ‘Gods of War’ – you may happily swing your axe about shouting “Fear! Fear the men on the North” as Black Royal take you on a galloping, epic rampage. Fuck me, heavy metal is exciting when done right, isn’t it?!
So, Black Royal have produced a startling album, bringing tales of persecution, strife and alienation. There is an ironic joke here somewhere about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, I’m sure, but instead I’ll leave you with this message – BUY THIS ALBUM!