With loss, grief and sorrow being on everybody's minds to some degree over the last few years, there has never been a better time for someone to make an album as eloquently crestfallen and beautifully dark as "Air Not Meant For Us". FIRES IN THE DISTANCE emerged as a class act. Their 2020 debut "Echoes From Deep November" breathed new life into the arcane and shadowy world of melodic doom / death metal, in much the same way that SWALLOW THE SUN's "The Morning Never Came" did two decades previously. In the end, it's all about self-evident excellence, and while parts of this band's first album owed a clear debt to the greats of the (sub)genre, the sum of all parts amounted to one of the richest and most adventurous albums of its kind in years.
Slow is almost always heavier than fast, and "FIRES IN THE DISTANCE still dwell largely in their self-carved niche between suppurating funeral doom and more artful, gothic lumbering. In every other respect, "Air Not Meant For Us" is a bold leap forward, and a more vivid and detailed elucidation of the Connecticut crew's musical vision. Opener "Harbingers" spends its first six minutes in full-on crushing death doom mode, with noticeably more swagger and groove than on the first album, and with melodies of an insidious, slow-burning stripe. Thereafter, it blossoms into glimmering, psychoactive life, as FIRES IN THE DISTANCE warp reality before the inevitable hammer-blow of those commanding riffs returns. With the elegance of early OPETH offset by the band's enjoyably heavy-handed execution, "Harbingers" is an immaculate mini manifesto.
The rest of "Air Not Meant For Us" continues the stately onslaught, with those trippy keyboard figures an intermittent and always diverting presence. "Wisdom of Falling Leaves" is particularly devastating: again, it exploits the obvious quiet / loud dynamic with a mid-song detour into bubbling ambience, but the reassuring crunch of death metal is never abandoned for the sake of atmosphere. Instead, FIRES IN THE DISTANCE overpower and overwhelm with sumptuous, gothic flair and a melancholic edge that will knock your teeth out. "Crumbling Pillars of a Tranquil Mind" says more with its yearning, desolate melodies than any number of post-therapy confessions; the closing "Idiopathic Despair" offers not defeat, but a genuinely touching sense of liberated defiance, underpinned by the album's heaviest and most aggressive riffs.
Heavy times demand heavy music, and "Air Not Meant For Us" is as downbeat as it gets. But FIRES IN THE DISTANCE have too much depth, soul and heart in their music to be standard bearers for misery. Sometimes, the heavier it gets, the more inspiring and uplifting it becomes.