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Kvaen - The Formless Fires review

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Band: Kvaen
Album: The Formless Fires
Style: Melodic black metal
Release date: June 2024

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

A very enjoyable melodic black metal experience with a fantastic sound that sadly offers nothing new in this saturated genre.

I first became acquainted with the music of Kvaen in 2022, when their sophomore album, The Great Below, totally blew me away. High-speed black metal full of elegant guitar-work, combining the approaches of bands like Dissection and Wintersun. Needless to say, that piece of modern meloblack beauty was for me a true highlight among 2022's releases.

So, two years have passed and Kvaen return with a new album. The question is: can The Formless Fires keep the flame alive?

Kvaen is largely a solo endeavor by Jacob Björnfot, who writes and performs all instruments except drums on his albums. The element that made Kvaen particularly stand out to me on their previous album was the prominent and frequent use of melodic guitar solos—an element that's not so common in the realm of black metal. The Great Below featured at least three guitar solos performed by guest musicians, while other guests provided vocal support, piano, and even accordion playing. These additional features really made the musicianship a rich experience with all that breadth of talent collaborating on The Great Below.

On The Formless Fires, there are also some noteworthy guest contributions. For the drumming, we have ex-Amon Amarth player Frederik Andersson taking charge. In terms of guitar solos, we have two guest musicians: Sebastian Ramstedt of Necrophobic and In Aphelion, who performs on “Traverse The Nether” (and who's been a staple of all Kvaen albums, in fact), and Dark Funeral’s Chaq Mol, who plays on “The Wings Of Death”. However, overall, there are less guest contributions on The Formless Fires than on previous records. And, while Björnfot is definitely a very talented musician in his own right, I do find myself missing some of those additional vocal and instrumental contributions that helped set this project apart from other similar bands.

The Formless Fires sounds generally quite similar to Kvaen’s past efforts, presenting melodic black metal that balances a sinister mood with maliciously fun and fast-paced energy. I don't have access to the full lyrics, but, from the few words I can pick out, there seems to be some overarching concept for some of the songs. For example, the opening and closing tracks both mention becoming “one with the void” (giving me serious Terminal Redux vibes at times). Mentions of serpents are also prevalent throughout, and I suppose the fiery beast on the cover art is meant to depict Basilisk, the King of Serpents.

The title track, acting as the opening song, immediately grabs the listener's attention with an excellent display of all of Kvaen’s signature characteristics: a combination of icy melody and thrashy, fist-pumping energy, as the raspy vocals shriek from amongst the triumphant harmonies. The next songs display good, capable musicianship with catchy melodies such as on “The Ancient Gods”. Each song offers satisfying heavy riffage, and a fun moment arises in “Traverse The Nether” when the lyrics reference the previous album: “Fall into the Great Below!”. But I find the quality truly ramps up in the second half of the album. My favorite song here is definitely “Basilisk” with its rampaging fury, gnarly guitar riffs, and memorable chorus. “De Dödas Sång” (“Song Of The Dead”) and the epic concluding track “The Wings Of Death” are also definite highlights for me as they both exhibit ominously atmospheric passages as well as impressively melodious, wailing guitar solos.

Overall, The Formless Fires is a very enjoyable and well-performed album that should give listeners a fun time of headbang-inducing, blackened groove. However, despite being a top-notch musical demonstration, it does not bring anything new to the table. Melodic black metal is such a saturated genre that a band has to be either extremely good or extremely innovative to stand out from the rest of the competition. Kvaen play very good black metal but lack some individual flair to make them truly unforgettable. There's no part of The Formless Fires that could help me distinguish it from the recent Necrophobic or Thulcandra releases, for instance. Thus, those listeners who are searching for something fresh from the black metal buffet probably won't be too amazed by Kvaen’s newest output. On the other hand, those listeners who simply want to sit back and enjoy some fast, melodic, and engaging Swedish black metal will find The Formless Fires a welcome companion.

Written on 23.06.2024 by The sign of good music is the ability to both convey and trigger emotion.

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