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A Near-Perfect Epic Black Metal Experience - 96%

XuL_Excelsi, September 21st, 2010

It’s not often you come across an album that’s so good that you label it a classic after only one or two listens, and even after prolonged exposure the album never proves that label wrong. It’s even more seldom for a debut album to reach such heights. Vesania’s “Firefrost Arcanum” is one such album.

There is a sincere air of intensity on this album, the kind that awes the listener without trying too hard. Vesania didn’t overdo anything on this album, didn’t overthink any element of the music, to the effect that they created an amazing album that is natural and organic while still being immensely heavy. They didn’t need any minimalism or repetition to enforce that organic feel, they simply play with the confidence of a band on their 5th or 6th album, belying the fact that this is a debut! Incorporating very unique structures and progressions, channeled to your enthralled ears by excellent production, Vesania’s “FIrefrost Arcanum” is a classic. This is an album so well-written, so perfectly crafted that its obscurity is a crime.

This is an album more epic than anything I’ve heard in ages. Even with the ambitious length of the songs, it never drags or becomes monotonous. Every song, every instrumental, is an integral part of the album. More often than not, I found myself listening to the full album without even skipping any interludes. Every element of “Firefrost…” is damn-near perfect! All of the compositions are excellent, with interesting time signatures and unexpected changes to keep you intrigued. The guitars complement one another perfectly, playing very fast black metal with imaginative riffs and amazing harmonies. Nothing comes as expected, and that’s what makes this album so enjoyable, it gives it longevity. “Firefrost…” will feature on playlists for a long time.

The guitars serve up memorable sections on every song, creating excellent progression throughout the album, with immense tremolo and often death metal riffs, always impeccably infused to create absolutely brilliant blackened death metal. The drums are also extremely effective on the album, with furious pace and perfect tuning. Not content with simply resorting to blast beats, the drummer outdoes himself on every track with amazing tempo’s and fills to attenuate the high speed blasting and double-bass. Even the bass is impressive when audible, showing very adept fretwork, clearly opposed to simply following the guitars in the background.

Symphonic elements and keyboard accompaniment can often ruin an excellent black metal album. It’s an easy trap to fall into, particularly with a keyboardist as a permanent member. It ensured the downfall of Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir even before Vesania released this mammoth album. That is why I’m often skeptical of symphonic black metal, but Vesania have belied my fears by achieving the balance on “Firefrost Arcanum”. The keyboards never take over the guitar and always serve their purpose as they should in all BM bands, that purpose is creating atmosphere. Here the symphonic elements enhance the music, creating nuances adding overall to the effect of the album, lending enormity, and filling out the epic sound that is “Firefrost Arcanum”. One could almost call this album theatrical, but not in a self-satire way as Bal-Sagoth did it. The balance on this album is meticulous, and yet natural, nothing forced.

It is strange that AnubiSS never did vocals for Behemoth (where he goes by the alias Orion), since he’s clearly a very talented BM vocalist, in addition to being an excellent guitarist. His black metal screams on this album are incredibly intense and aggressive, varying to include death metal growls from time to time. He has enormous range, possibly unrivalled by any except the mighty Nergal himself. It’s a pity Orion discarded this vocal style in favor of a more generic Dimmu Borgir approach on later Vesania albums.

There is incredible depth and purpose on this album, it’s not often you find a debut album this well-rounded. Disappointingly, Vesania did not continue in this trend, opting instead to dilute their musical direction into the commercial BM territory of aforementioned Norwegians Dimmu Borgir. Their later albums lack this rampancy, this sincerity. This is one of those albums that are just destined to become your favorite, and not just for black metal but for metal in general. The timeless appeal of this album puts it high on my list of greatest albums, it’s just that good. It’s also one of those once-in-a-career moments, quite like Cradle of Filth’s first two releases, where you know an album of this caliber won’t ever be repeated, making it all the more legendary.

These lengthy tracks will always be over all too soon as this album bears its soul in repeated listens. Even if I do tire of “Firefrost…”, it will always be a measure for all symphonic black metal bands to be found wanting. Every song is excellent, and each one for a new reason. For me, the standout tracks are “Nova Persei”, “Marduke’s Mazemerising” and “Daemoonion Act II”, but none of the songs are letdowns and none of the instrumentals are fillers. Every song must be heard in the context of the album and each one with its intro, as it contributes to the immersive journey of “Firefrost Arcanum”. A particular highlight is “Algorfocus Nefas” leading into “Marduke’s Mazemerising” exquisitely.

As a whole, this album is an intense and expansive musical experience to rival any. It is unbelievable that Vesania were this good on their debut effort! Quite simply, this is one of the best symphonic black metal albums I have ever heard.