Written by Swatty
Fires in the Distance – Air Not Meant for Us
> Melodic death/doom
> Connecticut, US
> Releasing April 28
> Prosthetic Records
Heaviness is a construct that is one of the most severe and affecting tools used in music. It exists in every genre whether through the lyrics, the depth of the atmosphere, or the heartfelt performances of the players. Metal, however, is one of the few genres whose very existence is built from the ground up purely on the weight of its sound. Even in its most joyous forms (e.g. power metal, stoner, etc.) it has palpable heaviness to, it but when you invert the energy into depression, loss, or heartache, the effects become that much more pronounced. Combine that energy with a sound defined by its roots in the bass cleft and the heaviness begins to transcend into something nuclear. Melodic death/doom is a prime example of this sonic ecosystem combining crushing sadness with paced and mournful guitars and a thick rhythm section. Bands such as October Tide, Exgenesis, Paradise Lost, and Rapture et al deftly wield this power, breaking our hearts one riff at a time. Connecticut’s Fires in the Distance have also joined this elite group of depression dealers with their achingly beautiful and colossally heavy sophomore album Air Not Meant for Us.
After spending a lot of time with the captivating beauty of Air Not Meant for Us, it is quite clear that Fires in the Distance are in the vanguard of heaviness. An easy starting point to make for that argument is with the guitars. Yegor Savonin‘s (principal songwriter/programming/guitarist) and Kristian Grimaldi‘s (guitarist) riffwork weaves beautiful threads that both ruminate and gently mourn with deliberate and captivating melodicism. While they don’t really drift into technical territory they absolute thrive in adagio and andante melodic lines with a patient focus on developing the atmosphere allowing the listener ample time to absorb the gorgeous texture and affecting pathos. All of this is conveyed in a tuning so low it would comfortably fit on a Swarm of the Lotus or LLNN album, but when placed here in a death/doom context the effect is devastating and yet quite comforting at the same time. In fact, this is the core of their sound – melancholy intermingled with profound warmth.
Opening track “Harbingers” is a perfect example of what to expect from the band. After a brief intro involving a playful keyboard run the guitars erupt with the force of a tectonic plate shifting. It’s a simple ascending chord progression with a beautiful upper string air doing a countermelody above it. What makes this so immediately arresting is the production and sheer will of the downtuned guitars. It creates a unique texture that can be physically felt at high enough volumes shaking the flesh but also entrenching itself in the spirit. Meanwhile the keyboards dance all around it high above in the treble and the combined effect is a warm weighted blanked that gradually covers you entirely. Again, the unrelenting melodicism in this low of a tuning makes the spirit behind the music amplify in ways that demand an emotional response. The result is breathtaking and cathartic.
Kristian Grimaldi‘s vocals are commanding and do a great job of evoking peak Nick Holmes. While his bellows are good he really excels in those Paradise Lost enunciated growls. His screams are also quite satisfying – his performance on “Crumbling Pillars of a Tranquil Mind” in particular is very emotive with the interplay of his screams and growls channeling the uneasy resignation in the music. Also worth noting are the brief solos that flourish throughout this song adding a powerful and evocative longing. Air Not Meant for Us is full of these special and personal moments that add to the overall focus on texture.
The real star, however, is mid-album instrumental “Adrift, Beneath the Listless Waves”. It opens with a trio of piano, cello, and violin that practically breathes a melody into existence which then becomes terra firma for the rest of the song. Eventually the guitars kick in with lamenting single chord strumming that recalls Katatonia as newcomer on drums Jordan Rippe gives another subwoofer-shredding performance. His playing is delicate and cogent while also adding a key element in sustaining the crushing quality of the band’s sound. Craig Breitsprecher’s bass also shines here with a clever take on the motif, moving along the melody with a succession of playful perfect fourths. His lines are so intricate and inventive and they complement the lugubrious heft of the rest of the music perfectly – each song features a highlight from him. Staccato piano also returns giving a nice counterbalance to the overwhelming gravity, but the biggest surprise is some guest shredding from Burial in the Sky‘s James Tomedi. His compelling solos catapult the music heavenward in a peak moment of reward and satisfaction.
The overall flow of the album is seamless – each song moves with the grace of a slow moving but determined river ending with the climax of thunderous closer “Idiopathic Despair”. Chest-beating riffs and double bass support the crestfallen arpeggios of the guitars while all working collectively to fade out into the ether with a last grasp that never fully reaches its target. It’s a clarion call to keep fighting for life no matter how dark the rest of the world becomes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fires in the Distance have outdone themselves with Air Not Meant for Us. What was established on debut Echoes from Deep November is fully realized here in a display of wistful unfulfilled need, overwhelming heaviness, deep and pleasant warmth, and an aching woe that persists in pained sighs. In a time where metal subgenres have reached a point of saturation, where uniqueness is a rarified commodity, Fires in the Distance have created a special take on melodic death/doom in cerulean hues that explode in the lowest frequencies of your listening device of choice. Air Not Meant for Us is a window to the evolution of a subgenre. Put it on, turn up the volume, and gently drift away into the horizon.