Proverbs 16:27: “An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.” So says the King James Bible to a world of sin. But what is sin if not life. And what is life if not empowered by the will to create, the desire to fornicate, the ability to transform beyond mere mortal shell. For Swedish supergroup Firespawn—featuring vocalist L-G Petrov, guitarists Victor Brandt and Fredrik Folkare, bassist Alex ‘Impaler’ Friberg, and drummer Matte Modin—the motivation to be more than the sum of their respective parts isn’t a weak shudder but a way of life. Riven between the wanton savagery of death metal, the musicality of heavy metal, and a new songwriting dynamic Firespawn have opened new Hadean doors on new album, Abominate.
“Heavy metal is more prevalent on Abominate than any previous album of ours,” says Impaler from his home in Umeå, Sweden. “That’s on purpose. I don’t think you can hear it that well on Shadow Realms. That album is pretty much death metal all the way through. It’s a little more obvious on Reprobate though. But on Abominate, especially in Fredrik’s solos, there’s a lot of heavy metal. Obviously, mixing death metal with heavy metal has been done before, but there aren’t many bands that do it well. It’s something fresh, I think. We’re trying to not be a typical death metal band. We’re challenging ourselves. That it happens to be death metal with a lot of heavy metal influences is really who we are as musicians and fans. Abominate feels real.”
Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” While the references to dogs here may equate to evil, the aphorism is more aptly applied to Firespawn’s continual and persistent improvement album to album. Formed as Fireborn in 2014, the death metal vets quickly realized they needed a more pertinent moniker for their music. Thus, Firespawn was born a year later. From debut Shadow Realms to follow-up Reprobate, the Swedes’ rise as purveyors of brutally crafted, wickedly honed death metal was foretold not by the history of Firespawn’s membership but the ever-increasing quality of their songs. From the barbarity of “Lucifer Has Spoken,” “All Hail,” “Serpent of the Ocean,” and “Full of Hate” to the ruthlessness of “Damnatio ad Bestias,” “Blood Eagle,” “Nightwalkers,” and “The Emperor,” they’ve not sat idle or played it safe.
“On Shadow Realms, Victor did the writing,” Impaler says. “On Reprobate, Victor did all but one song, which is the song Fredrik wrote (‘Damnatio ad Bestias’). When we started the process for Abominate, we had clean slate. Everyone had a chance to have their say in the music making process. Specifically, Fredrik is a lot more involved. Also, Matte has been involved in the writing process, which means more complex drum work than before. So, Abominate represents new ways of thinking for Firespawn. Not to say that Victor wasn’t a part of it – he was! – but now he has counterparts to play off of. Victor and Fredrik’s styles are different but they’re also complementary. By including Fredrik and Matte in the songwriting process we were able to stretch our comfort zones, add new elements to Firespawn’s music. The last thing we want is to sound like a typical death metal band. And the last thing we want is for our albums to sound exactly the same.”
WILD AND RESTLESS
Proverbs 1:6: “To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.” Firespawn aren’t teachers. Shadow Realms, Reprobate, and Abominate aren’t here to educate. Primary lyricist Impaler isn’t at the lectern to pontificate. Certainly, Firespawn aren’t here to retell stories of great battles between heaven and hell, where the armies of light succumb to the legions of darkness. Rather, the words, the symbolism, and the metaphors of Christianity are used to define and communicate Impaler’s own observations of the world terrible and its people horrible.
“We’re not a Satanic band,” says Impaler. “Not in the normal way you’d define Satanism anyway. Like a devil with a tail, wings, and a giant fork. That’s not what I’m about. That’s not what we’re about. Actually, I hate religion. It fucked up mankind for good. But I do see Lucifer as metaphor for freedom and justice. So, in that way the lyrics aren’t religious. They’re more philosophical and observational. They’re formed from hearing the songs, from the image I get in my head. Once I have an image, I just write until the lyric is finished. The lyrics are how I see the world, the people in this world, and how they’re treated. The world isn’t a pleasant place. Wait until you read the lyrics to Abominate!”
Proverbs 1:26: “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” The reward for Firespawn’s music and Impaler’s lyrics put to a visual is nothing but priceless. As with Shadow Realms and Reprobate, the Swedes re-hired Italian painter Paolo Girardi (Power Trip, Artificial Brain) to realize Abominate’s disturbing cover. The simple themes of past covers return: the nameless Firespawn demon, the surrounding hordes, chaos, and lots of death. Girardi’s trademark style—as inspired by Caravaggio, Goya, and Guercino—using colors like burnt umber and antimony yellow are in full view on Abominate. That it complements songs like “The Gallows End,” “Heathen Blood,” and “The Great One” fulfills the great promise of album art acting as a reflection of the artist’s musical and lyrical intentions.
“After two covers with Paolo, we had to have him back,” Impaler says. “I think what he’s done for Firespawn is perfect. There’s a presence to the covers, which I like. The covers look old. They feel like they’re old, the colors aren’t bright but toned down. And, of course, we had to have our demon back, our Firespawn demon, which is now in a warrior-type form. The demon has its origins in my heavy metal influences though. For example, Motörhead have Snaggletooth and Iron Maiden have Eddie. I wanted that in Firespawn, on every album, including Abominate. At this point, we’re not turning away from our demon!”
Proverbs 1:16: “For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.” To make resplendent and to forge in everlasting flame, Firespawn enlisted four studios to capture Abominate properly. In the old days, such itinerant ways of working would be blasphemous, but for the Swedes, they opted for nothing but the best for each component. Sure, a few saints were made sinners along the way to Dugout Productions in Uppsala, where Firespawn recorded Abominate’s drums with hotshot producer Lawrence Mackrory. Of course, a few happy priests were inverted unhappily while Victor and Fredrik branded their fretboard work to hard drive at Chrome Studios in Stockholm with Fredrik engineering. No doubt did the church choir sing songs of saturnine glory as Impaler plucked the lower rungs of Hell at Wolf’s Lair Studios in Umeå with Marcus Norman at the helm. And finally, the dead returned to the living as L-G barked inhuman things in unrecognizable tongues at Viking Production Studios in Stockholm with Impaler manning the controls. In all, Firespawn spent September 2018 through February 2019 venturing from studio to studio to complete Abominate. That it was mastered by Mackrory at Obey Mastering is the ultimate sign that the Swedes not only wanted a true gem but got a true gem.
“The studio sessions were spread across Sweden but that’s how we wanted to work,” says Impaler. “The sessions at all the studios were great. I specifically think the drum sessions with Lawrence were the foundation to why Abominate sounds as good as it does. He was able to capture Matte’s drum sound perfectly. I will also say working with L-G on the vocals was excellent. He’s like fine wine. He smokes and drinks more than anybody I know, but his voice on Abominate gives me goosebumps.”
Proverbs 2:14: “Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked.” The heavy breathing that leads into “The Gallows End” is but a foreshadowing of things to come. Whether it’s symbolic of the breathless pace at which Firespawn find themselves on Abominate or that the world is gasping for life, Impaler won’t tell. He’s leaving that up to the listener to interpret. But the minute L-G imparts his monk vocals against the cold melancholy of Fredrik’s impossibly good solo immediately shows Firespawn aren’t following up Reprobate with a pedal turner. That’s also demonstrated in the ultra-catchy, cleverly nuanced “Heathen Blood,” where Firespawn show off their newfound maturity across the song’s 3-minute span. And, elsewhere, the Swedes unfurl greatness in the form of “Blind Kingdom,” “The Great One,” and album capper “Black Wings of the Apocalypse” as if Abominate is the last death metal album ever.
“We’re trying to push ourselves on every album,” Impaler says. “In order to do that, you need to be dedicated to practicing. You need to have the discipline to continually improve. It’s hard but that’s our approach. Our motto “Dedication, Discipline, Death Metal” is proof of that. While the motto used to mean staying true to the death metal scene—we still go to local concerts to support the local scene—it’s changed over the years. It’s gotten more personal. More inside of who we are rather than what we are. Sure, it’s the same motto, but it’s more about pushing ourselves on every album. We don’t want to become Meshuggah – definitely not – but we want to progress.”
Proverbs 12:24: “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.” While Impaler’s arm hair stands on end when he hears (or talks about) L-G’s—the long-standing frontman is better now than he was on Entombed’s Left Hand Path!—fiendish vocals on Abominate, he’s reminded of the long journey Firespawn took to arrive at this point. The last five years have been difficult yet rewarding. Shadow Realms and Reprobate were exemplary of Firespawn at their respective times, celebrated by fan and critic alike for their uncompromising yet meticulous death metal onslaughts, but night is the new day on Abominate. For the faithful, there’s a new darkness marching out of the shadows. And they will rejoice in the bountiful harvest of death on Abominate. Wait and see!