At a recent Wolves in the Throne Room gig I was chatting to a friend about our musical preferences in the world of extreme music and while we both enjoy most subgenres his leaning is more towards bludgeoning death metal, whereas I prefer something with more variation, atmosphere and melody while keeping the aggression.

German black metal troupe Firtan fit this bill perfectly with their brand of progressive black metal, at times ferocious while at other times melodic and atmospheric, even contemplative. ‘Okeanos’, their second full length, opens with low vocal chants and softly spoken German dialogue before an anguished howl shatters the calm and ‘Seegang’ fiercely explodes into life. The intensity is interspersed with changes in pace and brief interludes which serve well to exaggerate the ferocity of the rest of the track.

‘Tag Verweil’ keeps the momentum going with a more progressive feel to the belligerent outpourings which are built around hypnotic guitar riffs and short passages of clean chants and spoken word passages, as well as a cleverly placed short piano piece towards the end which gives variation to the pummelling black metal body of this track.

The riffs and harsh vocals continue as ‘Nacht Verweil’ builds, until giving way to an instrumental passage midway through which leads to a hypnotic melodic climax. We return to spoken words to bring the song to a close, leading perfectly into ‘Purpur’ which is a three minute brooding string piece, haunting and introspective and extremely effective at this point in the album.

The mood continues during the opening of ‘Uferlos’ as a lamentful guitar piece builds and morphs towards abrasive guitar riffs and anguished vocals which ultimately yield to another atmospheric passage with harrowing vocals, subtle choral chants and acoustic guitar work which coalesce and build to a powerful climax.

The album is brought to a close with nine and a half minute beast ‘Siebente letzte Einsamkeit’, plodding with sepulchral rasps to begin before acoustic pieces and black metal rampages rub shoulders with abrasive melodies until the album ultimately fades out.

This is a challenging almost exhausting listen of the highest order. It is atmospheric, and melodic while managing to remain confrontational, aggressive, provocative and harrowing. Very impressive indeed.

(9/10 Andy Pountney)