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It's not a very common sentence (the one in the title) to be found inside a metal c.d. case, but there it is, inside The Firstborn’s newest pearl - The Noble Search. With it, the Portuguese band manages to establish itself as one of the best and most refreshing groups to come out of this small country and why not say it: they are now in the same league as most well-known bands of this genre.
One of the things immediately strikes one who looks to the case and reads the lyrics is the theme: everything in The Noble Search is about Buddhism. If in their previous record (The Unclenching of Fists) they focused only on the Tibetan ‘Book Of The Dead’ (something like Bardo Thödol), they now broadened their views, spreading them towards the various angles one can choose to look into this philosophy. Like Nile does, they include a little text after every song, explaining the meaning of the lyrics, which makes for a very interesting listening experience.
The music itself is not far from what they’ve done in previous works, but more polished, complex and containing fewer samples, allowing the final product to flow better and seem more natural in one way and to be more dynamic in another.
The message starts to spread with full strength in the opener, Illumination of the Five Realms, whose starting minutes are of sheer power, highlighted by the brutal performance of their drummer, Rolando Barros. Nevertheless containing one of the most harsh vocal performances from Bruno Fernandes, the song is also very dynamic, containing those characteristic oscillations between heaviness and a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere with all those oriental ornaments being masterfully delivered by a special guest (here lays one of the reasons for the reduced use of samples) – Luís Simões from Saturnia (not the Finnish band), who plays an instrument called sitar.
From the first song on, Bruno is not alone in the vocals duty (although he sings the majority of the lines) as he’s joined by Process of Guilt (Portuguese Doom band) growler Hugo Santos, who has one of the most powerful, deep and yet defined roars I’ve ever listened to. The balance between Bruno’s clean vocals, his trademark harsh screams and the brutality in Hugo’s voice is one of the many reasons why this is a must listen to album, some of the others being that The Firstborn has accomplished to create a truly unique sound, being able to melt together extreme metal with oriental atmospheres like only a few can.
Some of the most shining examples are: 'sunyata (The Wisdom of Emptiness), which stands as one of the most experimental songs in this recording and where Bruno’s clean voice comes out in its full potential, culminating in that beautiful repetition of the whispered sentence “empty in the past, in the presence in the future”; there’s also the demolishing In Praise of Reality, featuring some brutal riffs that just make you want to bang your head; Flesh to the Crows has the most well-known guest, Proscriptor McGovern of Absu, and is also a hell of a song. Last and (definitely) not least is the ‘grand finale’ Ocean of the one Vehicle: what a finisher! Like a living and breathing entity, it develops slowly, taking it’s time in an almost sludgy way and finally entering that beautiful chorus (“we, who were like streams, we became as one with the ocean”) that can get printed in your brain for days.
Truth be told, every song has that something special that makes it worth to listen to so there are no fillers here. Probably, the best metal album to ever come out of Portugal and I’m not denying the quality of other bands, this is just an amazing piece of metal (and I’ve given it some months to see if it would get old, which it obviously didn’t). To finish, I would like to quote some fine lines that Bruno wrote/screamed during In Praise of Reality:
“Through knowing reality, there is liberation. Always abide in oneself.”