Untouched By Fire

rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Cursed Into Nothing But Patience
02. Name Bestowed
03. Hefenfelth
04. He Saw Nine Winters
05. Beset by Weapons
06. Casket of Dust

Heavy metal has traditionally been a refuge for the godless and the despised, and yet religion has still played a huge part. Although the genre has a generally scornful view of organized religion, it has consistently and purposefully borrowed from its iconography, its sense of ritual and, most significantly, the atmospheric power of its music. Much as orchestras have been frequently employed as a suitably dramatic counterpoint to metal's bombast, so the pomp and ceremony of (largely Christian) religion has been routinely assimilated into its vocabulary, albeit often with malevolent motives. Religious music has power, and despite having no discernible supernatural of their own, ARÐ have harnessed it to mesmerizing effect on their second album.

Billed as "monastic doom metal", "Untouched By Fire" continues the work that Mark Deeks began on his band's first album, "Take Up My Bones", in 2022. The core of the sound is austere and solemn doom metal, specifically of a kind that owes large parts of its DNA to early PARADISE LOST and MY DYING BRIDE, along with the greats of the funeral doom scene. On top of that graceful and eviscerating base, Deeks piles layer upon layer of deep and resonant choral vocals that hang in the air like spectral clouds of grief and gravitas. Combined with songs that are melodically sharp and yet ruinously heavy, ARÐ's conjuring of reverential spirits is so convincing that even the militantly rational among us may struggle to remain unmoved, as the epic likes of "Cursed Into Nothing But Patience" and "Casket Of Dust" wend their majestic way through a billowing clouds of reverb, like sacred hymns from another, less fractious dimension.

As a dense fog of guitars pushes forward, lines of ornate poetry glide between the gothic plainsong of Deeks' amalgamated vocals, before floating ghost pianos and wisps of yearning cello gently conspire to assert that quiet, it turns out, really is the new loud. The bittersweet drift of "Name Bestowed" takes that dynamic instinct further, distilling ARÐ's monumental sound down to its sorrowful, elegant quintessence and building towards a final, uplifting surge of holy heft. Despite a title that will be difficult to say after six beers, "Hefenfelth" is a sweeping, melodic doom reverie that meanders through cosmic mirages and across windswept horizons, displaying a miraculous lightness of touch and masterful restraint. An intuitive grasp of subtlety's potential becomes even more apparent on the rough-hewn serenade of "Beset By Weapons"; while the closing "Casket Of Dust" takes ARÐ further into the malleable soundscapes of post-rock, and weaves Deeks' extraordinary vocals through a downward spiral of keening synths.

As they revisit metal's atmospheric bond with the non-worldly, ARÐ are making some of the most original and ingenious music around. "Untouched By Fire" is a minor (or possibly major) miracle. Praise be.

Author: Dom Lawson
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