Flame - March Into Firelands
Primitive Recordings
Black/Thrash Metal
8 songs (36 minutes)
Release year: 2011
Reviewed by Jake

March Into Firelands isn't the first album by Finnish black/thrashers Flame, but it's been six years since they released anything, so this one needed to play the role of introduction to some extent. For those all-important opening moments, Flame opted for the no-bullshit approach—the album's first track, Black Realms of Satanas, opens with a blast, every instrument hitting a huge note at once and jumping right into the thrash riff without so much as a held chord or a fill to ease us in or build momentum. An extremely grotesque black metal scream is part of that first cacophonous instant, and it's held for a few seconds, serving as the only hint of the genre's usual album-opening dramatics, but it doesn't really work in the song's favor—when you're purveying such deliberately simplistic and derivative riffs as these, the last thing you want to do is call Angel of Death to mind, reminding your listeners that thrash can be at least this brutal with that much more nuance. Black Realms of Satanas is the shortest piece on the record, a two-minute burst of occult noise that's meant to be an announcement, but is so relentlessly rote that the best thing it can do for the album is set low expectations.

It might be tempting to write off Flame based on their uncreative band name, but lest we forget, one of metal's great inventors called his band Death. March Into Firelands' very cool title and attractive artwork might provoke hopes of a similar kind of grand ambition, but “ambition” is not a word anyone is likely to associate with these songs. This is that certain kind of album whose intent is simply to provide straight-ahead brutality. That can certainly produce results (see my rave review from last year of Bastard Priest's debut), but the intersection of black metal and thrash is becoming a crowded field, and with heavy hitters like Skeletonwitch and The Wretched End in the game, Flame don't stand a chance of distinguishing themselves with the simple approach. They definitely deserve credit for avoiding the samey-soundingness that can plague this kind of album, which they achieve by varying up the genre alchemy from song to song—they're playing straight-ahead thrash on Black Realm of Satanas, blackened death metal on Doomed..., blackened thrash on Burning Horror, black metal on Fireland, et cetera—but their approach to each variant is roughly the same: genre-standard fast riffs over fast drums, giving way to two- or three-note mid-tempo grooves before jumping back into the chaos. Not a player in the band makes an effort to do anything beyond what the genre expects from his instrument, and only shrieker Blackvenom distinguishes himself while doing it; his rasp is a top-drawer iteration of the tortured black metal scream, but his guitar playing sticks to easy riffs, Blackspirit666's drumming consists of standard beats at just-substandard speeds, and you wouldn't even know bassist Infernus was there if not for the unusually bottom-heavy mix.

For all that Flame want you to think of them as brutal speed freaks, the best moments on March Into Firelands come when they pull back a bit on the speed and thrashing and give the black metal atmosphere some room. They're much, much better at coldness and evil than brutality and anger, as they demonstrate on Flaming Magic Assault; to a lesser extent on the over-titled finale Gateway to the Birth of Lunacy; and most splendidly on the defensibly awesome Fireland. That last is the slowest and most melodic song on the album (though it's still fast and brutal enough to qualify for the most exclusive of extreme metal shelves), and makes the best use of the diversity of the band's influence; by letting its hypnotic tremolo melodies ride atop a steady but rhythmic thrash groove, it doesn't exactly break new ground, but it certainly manages to recall Sons of Northern Darkness-era Immortal without suffering by comparison, which is not a feat to sneeze at. It would be something of a shame to see Flame abandon the thrash sensibility they seem so committed to here, but it would be nice if future releases could continue in this track's idiom, allowing the rhythmic virtues of thrash to take a backseat to the black metal ideas in which Flame are more fluent.

This review has been pretty hard on March Into Firelands, but it's certainly not a bad album. It's an enjoyable listen if you're in the right mindset, which is a harder thing to make than many people tend to acknowledge. It's probably only intended for genre diehards anyway, and if you're a black metal obsessive who likes his collection to have a thrashier edge, you may find it fits nicely. Thrash freaks are advised to stick to Skeletonwitch.

Killing Songs :
Firelands, Flaming Magical Assault
Jake quoted 75 / 100
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