The veil is thick, luminous and bears a very distinguished pair of… grey sideburns. Yes, the inescapable and most obvious point of conversation surrounding Göteborg, Sweden stoner/doom metal band Firebreather‘s second full-length, ‘Under a Blood Moon’, is that same characteristic bout of worship that’d been applicable to their self-titled debut back in 2017: They sound exactly like early High on Fire. Not just kinda like ’em, I’m talkin’ they’re centimeter away from exactly like those first two records from the seminal next-level beyond Sleep group.– If this is an issue for you, I’d posit the need to delay turning your nose up at such a rarity. Records like ‘Surrounded by Thieves’ aren’t something often capably duplicated, sure, there are bands that ‘sound’ like Matt Pike and Co., but few actually pull of that level of songwriting and sonic heft at once. Dig a bit deeper, let these Swedes bump around in your ears a while and I don’t doubt there’ll be some redeeming melodic ideas, some Crowbar-esque dirges, and a general sense of growth beyond ‘Firebreather’ (2017) to entertain the wary mind. It’ll at least be worth its weight for the thousands upon thousands of folks who either go all-in on High on Fire records or always wanted an also-ran that could keep up with the quality of those early 2000’s works.
But hey, I’m no shill for this stuff and I didn’t review the first album because Firebreather weren’t yet up to par with their influences, at least not enough to justify the likeness. To be fair the trio are up to their same tricks in terms of that dense and buried guitar tone and the easygoing doom metal crawl at a heavy rock pace; those old seven to ten minute songs now average at least an extra minute each and the groove is still the main reason you’re riding along. This time around they’re trying a bit more groove and a lot more melody (“Our Souls They Burn”) to work some extra interest into their formula. What works? Well, straight up whenever they drop off of the Pike-isms and whip out a bluesy lick (“Closed Gate”), a psychedelic transition, or a more aggressive vocal line (“Firebreather”) it feels like Firebreather are cracking their way out of a paradigm they’ve already outgrown.
This bigger, stretching boldness all comes to a head on “Firebreather”, a song that is sure to be a nuclear event when played live, as it resembles a ‘Blessed Black Wings’ level of heavy metal storytelling. Sure, they could push it further and lift that saturating veil of sonic excess but it is a sweet moment that I found myself returning to often. What about that Crowbar reference earlier? “We Bleed” surely invokes some of those classic bellowed vocal melodies circa ’98-’05 and I’m personally way on board for it. The shift in tone suits Firebreather well and adds to the ‘buried’, darker psychedelic tone of the full listen. I wasn’t wild about the double LP only being three quarters full on paper but, I’m also very glad “We Bleed” and “The Siren” are there to help round out the experience and provide some relief from the High on Fire comparisons ping-ponging around my skull. So, there are many moments along the way that begin to define this Swedish trio beyond their influences and it all adds up to a worthwhile full listen.
At the end of the day, month, year Firebreather will still be notable for sounding like another band. Again, I’m not particularly bothered by that. I mean look at how Monolord skyrocketed after ‘Empress Rising’ and they sure as hell still sound like Sleep and/or Electric Wizard, if you ask me. None of these things impede my enjoyment of ‘Under a Blood Moon’ thanks in no small part to those stylistic choices being complimented by very complete musical statements, dynamically written songs and an intrepidly psychedelic heaviness that many bands crank out but few actually pull off. It’s a ‘good not great’ experience overall but the potential is there and the bigger picture is already starting to bust through the walls on this second record. Moderately high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d suggest back to back listening to “Firebreather” and “We Bleed” for my favorite sixteen minutes the guys have worked up to thus far.
You whom drowns the light. 3.5/5.0
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