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Fires in the Distance – Air Not Meant For Us Cover
Fires in the Distance - Air Not Meant For Us


Album Review: FIRES IN THE DISTANCE Air Not Meant For Us

9.5 Reviewer

Back in 2020, Connecticut-based quartet Fires in the Distance crafted one of the best melodic death metal LPs of the year with their debut, Echoes From Deep November. Packed with fierce guitarwork, guttural screams, and highly elegant instrumentation, its imaginative fusion of styles rivaled much of what their contemporaries—including adjacent project Archaic Decapitator—were doing at the time.

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Fast-forward three years and the group’s sophomore record, Air Not Meant For Us, achieves the same caliber of excellence. In fact, it’s likely a more cohesive and concentrated journey, with a stronger emphasis on offsetting their hellish DNA with an abundance of beautifully classical detours and decorations. Despite also consisting of just six tracks, it’s considerably lengthier than its predecessor, too, so there’s a lot to discover and appreciate from beginning to end.

As its press release notes, the album “tie[s] together intensely personal ruminations on mental health and themes of existentialism in the form of mortality salience, without losing sight of the importance of perseverance.” Interestingly, it marks the formal introduction of drummer Jordan Rippe (who replaces Kyle Quintin), and it features a guest appearance from Burial in the Sky guitarist James Tomedi. Plus, returning producer Dave Kaminsky is joined by Randy Slaugh (Devin Townsend, TesseracT), whose typical knack for excellent live orchestration is in full force here. 

Case in point: “Harbingers,” the LP’s dexterously multidimensional opening composition in the vein of influences such as Amorphis and Swallow the Sun. It immediately reveal the record’s penchant for deeply eloquent and emotional scores, with rainfall blanketing an influx of gorgeously gothic piano counterpoints, woeful strings, and dynamically expressive metal arrangements. While the group’s vicious core remains enticing and prevalent, it’s the integration of these delicate symphonic moments that elevate the song into being an indisputable work of art.

Thankfully, Air Not Meant For Us maintains that magic with the subsequent five pieces (albeit with a larger focus on the quartet’s heavier side during the middle of the collection). In other words, both “Wisdom of the Falling Leaves” and “Crumbling Pillars of a Tranquil Mind” prioritize the devilish singing and alluringly chaotic riffs and rhythms of Rippe, guitarist/vocalist Kristian Grimaldi, bassist/vocalist Craig Breitsprecher, and composer Yegor Savonin.

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In contrast, instrumental “Adrift, Beneath the Listless Waves” strikes a perfectly synergetic relationship between crushing and gentle instrumentation.  It’s also a fine showcase for Tomedi’s flashy techniques, whereas the comparatively progressive “Psalm of the Merciless” is mainly a vehicle for Rippe’s adventurous syncopation. Of course, thunderous coda “Idiopathic Despair” finishes things off quite powerfully, surrounding its cathartic centerpiece with a surplus of sinister performances. Its occasional narration adds authority and variety, too, fleshing out its “introspection into some of the most brutal and debilitating aspects of living with chronic depression” (as Savonin puts it).

Air Not Meant For Us is a masterpiece of modern melodic death metal, plain and simple. Although it’s not as texturally vibrant and expansive as Echoes From Deep November, its refined palette and unity enrich its ability to feel like single movement split into six sections. Put another way, it’s a breathtakingly deft illustration of Fires in the Distance’s ability to simultaneously embody the splendor and bleakness of humanity. Just as Echoes From Deep November astounded genre enthusiasts at the start of the decade, then, Air Not Meant For Us is sure to be a contender for 2023’s best melodic death metal LP.  

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