KVAEN – The Formless Fires (Album Review)

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The blackened fires shall burn.

Though perhaps not the most notorious purveyor of black metal in the 1990s; Sweden arguably birthed the scene that could boast the most intricate take on the Northern European brand of auditory coldness. Sticking closer to the death metal practices that had immediately preceded it and being less prone towards the rustic minimalism that had become the trademarks of Norwegian icons like Mayhem, Burzum, and Darkthrone, it was a more common occurrence for the visual of Norse conquerors to march into battle to be accompanied by a more virtuosic sense of musicianship from guitarist and drummer alike.

One-man project Kvaen, an effort born almost three decades after the blackened arts had supplanted the physically moribund ones as the extreme fringe of metal expression, has been one of the more impressive examples of this art being delivered in a modern, higher fidelity package; and it’s 3rd and latest studio venture “The Formless Fires” ups the raw intensity and technical prowess ante even further.

Multi-instrumentalist and mastermind Jacob Bjornfot reprises his role as the one-man army in the studio by handling vocal, guitar, bass, and keyboard duties to masterful effect, yet his prowess alone does not see the culmination of this mighty opus. Arguably of equal consequence is the presence of ex-Amon Amarth drummer Fredrik Andersson behind the kit, putting on a master class of how to blast and machinegun kick with the fury of a thousand storms without showing even the slightest hint of imprecision, and also taking some noteworthy occasions to slow things down without losing an iota of power.

Bjornfot matches this wild technical display at every possible opportunity with a stream of well-placed guitar solos that could rival the likes of Alexi Laiho (R.I.P.) and Jari Maenpaa, yet even more auspicious is the inclusion of two celebrated Swedish black metal shredders in Necrophobic’s own Sebastian Ramstedt and Dark Funeral’s Chaq Mol respectively, injecting further gravitas into an album already filled to the brim with it.

The stylistic modus operandi of this album, as with its predecessors, is an amalgam of the classic 2nd wave Swedish melodic black metal rage of Dissection, Unanimated, and Naglfar with the aforementioned technical flair of Necrophobic and Dark Funeral, as well as a healthy Viking metal element after the spirit of Mithotyn and Enslaved. It isn’t the sort of black metal that is content to drone on and simply provide a hypnotic backdrop for the lyrical delivery of a wailing berserker, yet it is calculating in how it moves from one idea to the next and takes plenty of time to develop one before moving to the next.

“The Formless Fires” Album Artwork

Whether it be mad thrashing storms of rage like the opener and title anthem “The Formless Fires” and “Basilisk”, more mid-paced and folksy atmospheric entries like “Tornets Sang”, or extended journeys through the endless now that mix varying degrees of orderly marches and roaring chaos after the spirit of latter-day Immortal like “Ancient Gods” and “The Perpetual Darkness”; there is a continual spirit of lofty storytelling and well-organized songwriting that works on every level. Bjornfot takes it to yet another level of the riveting “De Dodas Sang” by throwing in a brilliant acoustic guitar display with a mild classical touch to usher in what might well be the best entry on the album if not one of the best black metal anthems of 2024.

This is prime cut metal that will cut across the entire spectrum of black metal adherents, capturing the archaic building blocks first realized by Bathory all the way through the higher fidelity production practices and naturalistic elements that have typified the sub-genre of late, leaving no stone unturned despite clocking in at under 40 minutes. Despite its strong affinity with the older adherents to the style, this is an album that 3rd wave fans who discovered the art through the likes of Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch could equally appreciate.

It perfectly balances the underground character that comes with the style with a concise and highly accessible approach to songwriting that should offer a wide appeal to even those who are more inclined to mainline melodic death metal after the mold of early In Flames and Amon Amarth, leaving little mystery as to why this project was picked up by Metal Blade Records for this album. Prepare thyself to be whisked away to a world where Norse conquerors lay waste to all in their way, then shout praises to the old gods by the campfire with mead in hand and the wind chilling their beards, only the fires will burn without form as they pierce the endless black.

Released By: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: June 21st, 2024
Genre: Melodic Black Metal

Musicians:

  • Jacob Björnfot / Vocals, guitar
  • Kristian Gustavsson / Guitar
  • Rasmus Rova / Guitar
  • Per Lindström / Bass
  • Fredrik Andersson / Drums

The Formless Fires” Track List:

  1. The Formless Fires
  2. Traverse the Nether
  3. Tornets Sång
  4. The Ancient Gods
  5. Basilisk
  6. De Dödas Sång
  7. The Perpetual Darkness
  8. The Wings of Death

Order The Formless FiresHERE

9.4 Excellent

Crafting yet another sonic blade of pagan blackness for mythical frozen battlefields, the one-man black/Viking metal project Kvaen presents an auditory tempest of metallic frost and intrigue with "The Formless Fires," its third and most intense studio album to date

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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