Album Title: The Funeral Pyre
Label: Black Lion Records
Date of Release: 28 February 2020
The black metal scene is littered, arguably more than any other, with one-man bands and projects. Many of them are absolute rubbish, the kind that only their mothers will like, or that can’t really be heard because they were recorded in a shoe box or biscuit tin in the middle of a blizzard on a four-track recording device. In some instances, I’m pretty sure that the recording equipment of choice may even have been a Dictaphone. However, on my voyage of discovery, I happened upon this, a one-man band from Sweden, going by the name of Kvaen.
The musician at the centre of Kvaen is a name that might be vaguely familiar to some of you. Jakob Björnfot is the ex-guitarist with melodic death metal band Duskfall and, as well as being a relatively prolific session musician, he is currently a live member of the most excellent Ghost Ship Octavius. I’m pretty sure that I must have crossed paths with him at ProgPower Europe in that case. Small world.
Anyway, Kvaen is Björnfot’s baby, a band or project if you will, to call his own. And it sounds nothing like the aforementioned one-man black metal acts because crucially, this debut album, entitled ‘The Funeral Pyre’, is extremely good, with much to commend it. In fact, it is better than ‘good’; it is flippin’ excellent.
Since grabbing hold of this promo, I have listened to it frequently and I am in no way tiring of the content. Spanning eight tracks and roughly 45 minutes, it is the perfect duration to make an impact and leave, whilst leaving the listener wanting more. Having said that, what more could the listener want? This is an album that is described by Björnfot himself as “black metal with speed, pagan, and Viking metal influences”. It’s a pretty accurate description too, as ‘The Funeral Pyre’ is certainly fast and aggressive, sounding cold and atmospheric at the same time. But the music is also surprisingly melodic with plenty of folk trappings. Then there’s the organic, natural feel to much of the material, enhanced by a strong and clear, yet authentically raw production. It is clear very quickly, that a lot of love, care and thought has gone into this record.
The album, via ‘Revenge By Fire’, literally charges out of the blocks with a fast, urgent and energetic tremolo riff, accented by some thunderous drumming. On that note, Björnfot has deliberately gone for real drums on ‘The Funeral Pyre’ and I couldn’t be happier about this. As good as sampled drums or machines are these days, they’re no substitute for the real thing as this album so easily proves, with the drumming performed by a clutch of guest sticksmen. Back to the opening song, and the Dissection-esque riffs and gruff vocals eventually give way to a stunning melody that gets lodged in my head for hours after the album has ended. It has a definite folk/Pagan tone to it, brought to life by a speedy lead guitar line. It doesn’t outstay its welcome though and it comes and goes a couple more times within the song to accent and soften a little the more savage intent of the composition, most notably when the intensity ceases for a brief moment to allow the bass to be heard in the relative, short-lived tranquility.
If anything, ‘Yee Naaldlooshii’ is even better. It is just as aggressive, but the speed is decreased ever so slightly and the melodies are even more epic and pronounced. The guitar is the lead protagonist again for the melodic intent but it is accented by some subtle keys and a slight smoothing of the vocal delivery to something akin to a gruff croon.
The folk influences loom large on the title track, which is just as fast and furious as previous material, but injects some clean strummed guitar at strategic points, as well as some intriguing, heavily effected spoken vocals. The sense of the wilderness and nature comes to the fore too, as the song is just incredibly epic-sounding from start to finish, enhanced by yet more great lead guitar work including a blistering and wailing extended solo which is just delicious.
What I really like about ‘The Funeral Pyre’ is that Björnfot has a clear objective and he nails it from beginning to end. There is nothing extraneous to be heard on the album – everything is included for a purpose and not a moment is wasted. As far as Björnfot is concerned, less is more but he is absolutely right as his succinctness has served to make the whole record stronger and more enjoyable.
Take ‘Septem Peccata Mortalia’ as the perfect example. At just a smidgen over four minutes, the song is epic, engrossing and contains plenty of variety in the form of fast riffs, a beautifully arresting melody and an interesting stop-start thrash-like machine-gun riff and drum combo that catches my ear. Then there’s ‘As We Serve The Master’s Plan’ which contains more of a classic metal attitude as well as bold choral vocal effects and a wonderfully delicate and nuanced lead guitar line above a more minimalist soundscape where again the bass is allowed to come to the fore.
There really isn’t much more to say about ‘The Funeral Pyre’ that I’ve not already said. Anyone who likes their extreme metal in the blackened death or even the Pagan/folk vein, then Kvaen is a complete no-brainer and ‘The Funeral Pyre’ needs to be nestled in your collection with immediate effect. It’s as simple as that.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: