The Formless Fires

Metal Blade
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Formless Fires
02. Traverse The Nether
03. Tornets Sång
04. The Ancient Gods
05. Basilisk
06. De Dödas Sång
07. The Perpetual Darkness
08. The Wings Of Death

The brainchild of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Jacob Björnfot, KVAEN earned themselves a formidable underground reputation with their two previous albums, "The Funeral Pyre" (2020) and particularly "The Great Below" (2022),  which was sufficiently buzz-worthy to lure Metal Blade Records into the Swedes' pagan tailwinds. Currently evolving from a one-man band to something more enduring, with recent live shows as proof, KVAEN may already have exceeded their leader's own expectations, but "The Formless Fires" is an album that resounds with ambition. Built upon a stormy, emotionally intense strain of blackened Viking metal, these songs go bigger and harder than their earlier counterparts, with a more polished sound that brings out all the resonant details in Björnfot's icy riffs.

In truth, getting bogged down in the specifics of which subgenre KVAEN belong to soon becomes a redundant exercise. "The Formless Fires" is a big extreme metal record, both in terms of sound and songwriting, and while the core of everything is voracious black metal with a penchant for frenzied blastbeats, these songs are melodic and punchy, and at times authentically stirring.

The opening title track says it all: a sustained barrage of muscular blackened death with a wistful, windswept streak a mile wide, it gets the balance between all-out metal fervor and atmospheric deviations just right. Likewise, "Traverse The Nether" is a gleaming, tune-driven blaze of mountainside majesty, fueled by the dark side of thrash and dotted with intricate structural quirks. As with the greatest songs on "The Great Below", the succinct likes of "Tornets Sång" and "Basilisk" achieve the unlikely by cramming all that otherworldly ambience and grim pageantry into razor-sharp, four-minute metal songs.

Less tightly tethered to pagan/Viking metal norms than the first two albums suggested, "The Formless Fires" has plenty of crossover potential. When indulgent moments arrive, however, they are executed with finesse and blend into their brutish, weather-assailed surroundings. Starting with a lyrical, acoustic guitar intro, "De Dodäs Sång" is momentarily redolent of '80s prog metal, before spinning off on an exhilarating journey through dense clouds of frostbitten grandeur, interspersed with fat shards of classic metal crunch. Similarly, "The Wings Of Death" is melancholy, gothic metal infused with the eerie, scab-encrusted aura of Norway's early '90s, and a dash of MAIDEN-esque melodic loveliness. Even at their most prosaic on "The Perpetual Darkness", the Swedes studiously avoid the obvious rhythmic choices and structural tenets beloved by many of their peers. Björnfot is clearly as inspired by traditional metal as he is by the clandestine underground, and that combination of influences is the key to this album's instant allure.

KVAEN haven't torched the rulebook here, but they have been meticulous in drawing out the emotional power of their adventures. The result is an album with great character, tons of thrilling, none-more-metal moments, and significant commercial potential. This one-man band is blossoming into a formidable force.

Author: Dom Lawson
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