Boy howdy, it’s been something of a week over here. Things in Chicago are still looking pretty bleak and gloomy, I simultaneously have too much to do and no motivation to get a whole lot done and I just have a feeling like I need something to kick my ass into high gear. Fortunately, the long-awaited debut album, The Funeral Pyre, from Sweden’s Kvaen is there to remind me that if the Fimbulvinter truly is upon us in the Midwest, it might as well come with hefty doses of old school speed and black metal fury.
I must say, somehow, I missed all the hype surrounding this album. I picked up the promo because I very much enjoy a good thrashy take on black metal, but I had never heard any of the singles or even heard of Kvaen. It was only after I gave this album a listen and started some research that I realized just how hotly anticipated The Funeral Pyre has been. Even people who don’t normally go for black metal have been raving about singles like the title track and “Septem Peccata Moralia,” and for good reason. There is so much here that makes this project more than just a one-man black metal band. There are honest-to-god, ripped from the 80’s thrash riffs that will compel you to headbang hard enough to shatter vertebrae. There are anthemic chant-alongs to lyrics about Ragnarök, Vikings and pagans. There are guitar solos that will melt your face off. There’s a little something for everyone, and I can definitely understand the appeal now that I’m a few spins into the whole thing. Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter Jakob Björnfot is joined by a truly monstrous cast of guests to round the whole thing out. There are no less than four different drummers playing on eight tracks, along with guest guitar solos from Sebastian Ramstedt (of Necrophobic fame) and Matthew Wicklund and guest vocals from Pierre Törnkvist on lead single “Yee Naaldlooshii.” While Björnfot handles the bulk of the duties on the album, it’s truly the many contributions of friends and colleagues that make this album shine and give each track its own unique feel.
Right off the bat, this is an album that is supremely fun to listen to. There are so many moments where the late 80s/early 90s feel is captured so perfectly it almost makes you wonder if this is an album that just came out or if it came out 30 years ago. It helps that the production quality is good, but not too good. There’s just enough grit around the edges to keep the overall feel of the album from being too slick and polished, which for me would kill the thrashy, old-school vibe that gives The Funeral Pyre a lot of its charm. Tracks like “Revenge by Fire” and “Bestial Winter” sound like the perfect bastard child of Bay-area thrash and icy Scandinavian black metal, both of which are genres that are not know for high-quality production. One of the things that I enjoy most about this album is how well those two styles are blended together to bring out the best of both genres. It seems like it’s almost split down the middle though, with the front half being mostly speed oriented and the latter half mostly black metal influenced. I think this slows it down a little and makes it hard to sit all the way through. I feel like shuffling the track order around would make this a little bit more interesting to listen to from start to finish; this is an album where I’m going to be listening to individual tracks more than the whole thing, but every track on here is a winner.
Debuts are sometimes a hard thing to judge, but I have a very good feeling about Kvaen’s future. It seems like it’s going to be hard to top something this good right out of the gate, but this isn’t Björnfot’s first rodeo, so I’m sure it’s only going to get better from here. For right now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy an album that I’m sure is going to kick my ass for a good long while.