Considering the personnel comprising Firespawn – members of Entombed A.D., Unleashed, Necrophobic and exDefleshed – that their Shadow Realms debut was so ordinary and unexciting was a substantial disappointment. It’s not that the album was bad, per se, it’s that with all the involved talent and experience, expectations assumed more than the personality-lacking album that emerged. It has since been revealed that Entombed A.D.’s Victor Brant wrote the vast majority of the debut himself, which goes a long way in explaining its linearity and lack of diversity. Album number two, on the other hand, is a more complete and collaborative effort, sounding more like a band whose members were able to occasionally put down the beers long enough to bounce ideas off one another, debate arrangements and work on structures.
The upgrade can be heard from the off in opener Serpent Of The Ocean, which stacks an epic-sounding Amon Amarth-ish chromatic melody over some choice death-thrash, adding wonderfully spindly runs and staccato chord jabs slightly reminiscent of the 90s noisecore boom as filtered through mid-period Morbid Angel and guitarist Fredrik Folkare’s day job in Unleashed. And speaking of Fredrik, the man has certainly showed up ready to play. He and Victor Brandt lock horns over a collection of buzzsawing, Swedeathstyle riffs but temper the grooving and the blasting with equal amounts of restraint and furious showmanship flurries (Blood Eagle, Generals Creed), with the always reliable Fredrik dishing out mini-masterpiece solos that seamlessly reference the disparate worlds of fire-and-brimstone death metal and guitar-as-phallic-symbol 70s rock indulgence.
Encouragingly, The Reprobate avoids falling into the trap of sacrificing savagery for technique. Firespawn demonstrated they could play on Shadow Realms – if the literal hundred-plus years of collective band experience didn’t already indicate such – but The Reprobate tightens up the songwriting, making sure points of attack are zeroed in on, that killer riffs are tastefully exploited and outlying experiments like the ghostly, but ghastly, vocals polluting the mid-section of Death By Impalement are limited. Aside from that, and moments like the title track, which illustrate how Firespawn thrive at higher velocities, The Reprobate marks a cohesive improvement and certainly lives up to its advance billing.