You may think you have heard it all before. Students of the metal underground are constantly bombarded with announcements about a couple of guys from a well-known extreme metal band joining forces with a couple of guys from another well-known extreme metal band to form yet another band that, in all likelihood, will be playing extreme metal of one kind or another.
Death metal, in particular, has always been keen on these incestuous arrangements, but the results are variable and frequently focused on notions of revisiting classic sounds and styles from eras past. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. Old-school death metal rules. But despite fitting comfortably into the aforementioned template, Firespawn are different. The brainchild of Entombed AD bassist Victor Brandt and Necrophobic bassist Alex Friberg, this latest meeting of malevolent minds has conjured one of the most startling and impressive metal albums of 2015, Shadow Realms. A tour de force of pulverising but crafted death metal grandeur, it couldn’t be further away from all those archetypal half-arsed side-projects and sounds like the beginning of something genuinely exciting.
“The thing is that we had no expectations or any history to live up to,” says Victor. “It was an open canvas for us and we could do exactly what we wanted to do. We all play in other bands, but they all have an audience already. With Firespawn, we had none of those listeners who only like a band’s first album and nothing else! Ha ha! So that all added to the excitement of creating something new and something different.”
“Our other bands have already made a path and they have to work within that,” states Alex. “When we started this I asked Victor, ‘What kind of death metal should we do?’ He showed me four or five songs and said ‘This is the kind of stuff I want to do! It’s more extreme and dark…’ I thought, ‘Holy fuck! This is what I want to do as well!’”
“Those songs were stuff that I’d kinda kept to myself and it felt weird presenting it to someone else, because it was such personal material,” Victor explains. “Alex is such a driving force to work with, so it’s been very cool. A lot of stuff starts to happen when you work with someone so driven and positive. There’s a lot of energy.”
The final and perhaps most important piece in the Firespawn puzzle is the involvement of Swedish death metal’s one-man heavy metal whirlwind L-G Petrov, legendary frontman with Entombed (AD) and one of the most remorselessly enthusiastic metalheads on the planet. His performance on Shadow Realms is nothing short of extraordinary: stepping away from the punkier, rock’n’roll vibes of his other band, L-G attacks Firespawn’s songs with hair-raising vehemence, his voice sounding more brutal and guttural than ever before. As a result, Shadow Realms oozes authority and class from start to finish.
“Yes, he’s very special, both as a vocalist and a frontman,” Alex notes. “He’s one of the absolute best frontmen in the world that I know. I’ve been friends with him for many years because the Stockholm scene is very small, you know? Victor knows him well too, of course, because he plays with him in Entombed AD. When we started to talk about this, in my opinion there was only one guy who could be the frontman. So we asked L-G if he would be interested, and he was very excited to do something new as well. As long as it was fast as hell, he was in!”
“He likes a lot of really extreme stuff,” Victor laughs. “He’s not getting older, he’s getting younger!”
“In the studio,” Alex reveals, “we just said: ‘Be as brutal and extreme as you want! Do what you want to do!’ To be honest, I’ve never heard him sing this good ever. It’s as brutal as all hell.”
One curious aspect of death metal’s recent evolution is that both its fervently modern and defiantly old-school practitioners are often guilty of pursuing an extremely narrow sonic path. But Firespawn seem to be on a mission to revive the genre’s exploratory spirit, albeit while remaining thoroughly gruesome and monstrous at all times. There are definite shades of the imperious grandiloquence beloved of Behemoth and their many likeminded acolytes on songs like The Emperor and Necromance, and while Victor and Alex can hardly fail to let a little classic Stockholm death metal leak into their adventurous material, there is absolutely nothing retrogressive or lazily nostalgic about this band.
“I just think that there’s no point in going back in time to do something that has already been done 20 years ago,” says Alex. “The point is to make something new, or at least to try. We strive for that epic sound. It’s that ‘gladiator in a coliseum’ vibe.”
“It does give that old-school experience but in a new package,” adds Victor. “We’re musicians and our roots can’t be cut. We were born and bred with this kind of Swedish death metal style and we love the older flavours, the American stuff and Carcass and so on, but for me, Firespawn is what I would like to listen to myself. We wanted it to sound as big as possible, like some kind of huge death metal juggernaut.”
Pleasingly, Firespawn is very much a serious concern for all involved and, given the strength of their opening statement, death metal diehards will soon be praying that this a long-term affair. When you consider that all five members of the band have a couple of decades of active service under their belts, it seems highly likely that Firespawn are in this for the long haul. With a second album already in the pipeline and plans for extensive touring in 2016 being pieced together as we speak, death metal’s latest unstoppable wrecking machine is about to click into gear. After all, this music is for life, not just for Xmas.
“We have the motto ‘Dedication, discipline, death metal’,” Victor notes. “But it’s all about making music that we want to listen to, and creating atmosphere… We made this album for ourselves, but we’re really happy that other people are appreciating it too. But if people hated it, we would still sound exactly the same!”
“Are we death metalheads for life? Of course,” says Alex. “It’s a lifestyle, so you have it until you die.”
“Absolutely,” Victor nods emphatically. “Death for life.”
SHADOW REALMS IS OUT NOW VIA CENTURY MEDIA