After five years honing their craft with live shows and a trail of EPs, Finnish Stoner/Sludge quartet Black Royal garnered decent praise for 2018’s debut album Lightbringer (Suicide Records). Follow-up Firebride (also Suicide Records) delivers more of the same but with a certain refinement and increased maturity to that Death-flavoured, filthy anger.
There’s a heavy influence of the Occult at the band’s core, identifiable right from opener ‘Coven’: its deliciously mournful acoustic string onset and midriff exploding into a huge driving riff and Riku Niemelӓ‘s harsh bark which possesses enough phlegm to moisten the effect. The ensuing ‘Hail Yourself’ leans more toward those Death seasonings, a more rampant pace still emitting heavy power and given touches of both tradition and imagination by Toni Morjes‘ leadplay. ‘Pagan Saviour’, meanwhile, returns to a more Doom-laden bedrock but with Niemelӓ‘s throat really creating a menacing edge and being forced home by Jukka Hiltunen‘s mammoth drums.
The mix of styles here leads one to visualise a much mightier, less prosaic DevilDriver: the MeloDeath elements of the Californians ceding to the Finns’ crushing weight for a more satisfying experience. The trammelling force of ‘All Them Witches’ leads a real headbanger of a chorus, Hiltunen’s tubthumping battery shoving Morjes’ riff through the side of a mountain, while the depth of the crawling coda is given a subtle background howl to enhance the fear. ‘313’ is a classical gas-style interlude, the acoustic’s beautiful tones shining through the beefy, resonant production and paving the way for the squealing groove of ‘Gods Of War’: Morjes and bassist Pete Kantola powering the body of a rutting beast, with even its quietened centrepiece carrying enough omen to worry a marauding hippo.
Arguably the album’s major force, Hiltunen again reveals his full power and sense of bucking pattern with the otherwise-perfunctory ‘The Reverend’, a Punk sensibility chapening the Sludge undertow. Partner-in-rhythm Kantola begins the title track with bass notes resembling a jet taking off, the song’s colossal body swinging and falling like a troll’s club as Morjes provides a squishy centre: while maudlin closer ‘For The Dead Travel Fast’ saws through the sinews as it laments with suitable emotion, its eerie bridges graced by spectral voices and a Tarja-like female vocal, providing a fitting end to an album which delivers violence and atmosphere in spades.
7 / 10
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