REVIEW: Fleshkiller – “Awaken”

Fleshkiller came out of nowhere for me. The Norwegian metal band comprised of stalwart Ole Børud (Extol), Elisha Mullins (The Burial, A Hill to Die Upon), Andreas Skorpe Sjøen (Umpfel) and Ole Vistnes (Tristania) was on a lot of people’s radars, but seemed to evade mine despite their pedigree until the release of their debut album, Awaken. I dove in and found one of the most pleasantly enjoyable progressive death metal albums I’ve heard this year. It might be thematically challenging to some, but what lies underneath is top-notch artistry using heaviness and catchy passages as primary musical drivers.

Fans of Extol or Ole Børud in general know that he is known – even revered by some – to use a lot of Christian imagery and themes in his music. It’s natural that with Extol effectively disbanded for the foreseeable future, if not indefinitely, that Børud would search for a new outlet for writing and producing similar music. Yes, Fleshkiller are clearly, unapologetically singing about God. How many metal bands do you see telling abhorrent tales of death, suffering or violence to convey nihilistic and macabre themes or singing about Satan? There’s room for both, but what Awaken does, in totality, sets it apart from the pack. It’s not preachy or overwhelming at all; for the listener, it’s simply just a central theme on which the lyrics are based. Regardless, the themes and lyrics are presented in such a compelling, powerful way that it only serves the music for the better. Call it a gimmick if you want, but this is Fleshkiller. Whether that’s a problem for you is for you alone to decide, but I would be remiss if I didn’t urge possible detractors to give this great album a chance. Here’s why:

If that isn’t proof enough, allow me to elaborate. Nearly every single song here has a catchy riff or great harmony that makes it memorable. The song above, “Parallel Kingdom”, has all the markings of a true death metal album from Scandinavia. What makes it shine is the opening clean vocal harmony. It’s simple and angelic, and acts as the thesis statement for the rest of the album. Up front, Fleshkiller lets you know that they are here for some intense riffing and driving drums, showcasing the grimier and grittier bits of the genre, but they aren’t about to leave you wanting for the more elegant and pretty side of things either. “Salt of the Earth” similarly layers these elements with the use of a harsh, primal roar that stomps over one of the catchiest guitar riffs I’ve heard this year in the intro.

“Secret Chambers” shows us what it means to have faith with lyrics like ‘the shaping of a soul, forging a prudent character / through all we cannot see, the deepest mystery / a lesson for the just, wisdom is to trust‘. This track reminds me of Dååth with its staccato guitar notes and quick double bass drumming, providing great instrumentation for Børud and Mullins to sing over. “Evil Eclipse” is one of a few songs on here that has a slight Gothenburg sound to it, reminiscent of early At the Gates or Arch Enemy. Soaring, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them guitar solos flourish high in the mix in a couple places, which gives this track a dynamic feel.

Continuing the Gothenburg influence, melody is not absent from “Warfare”, despite it arguably being the heaviest track here. Lighter guitar notes form a background for the heavier lead guitar to pick through. The vocals stay harsh, not giving the cleans much of a moment to shine aside from some harmonizing during the chorus. Here, we also see a good example of how dynamic the growled vocals can be; when they reach their lowest guttural lows, they sound like Peter from Vader.

Fleshkiller‘s use of both harsh and clean vocals in this manner is similar to Black Crown Initiate, all the way down to the higher octaves the cleans reach. It’s a good mix, complementary to the band’s style and themes; this also helps fill the void until the next Black Crown Initiate album, so I’m all for it! My only complaint about this album is some of the middle tracks can run together a bit and are instrumentally similar, making them hard to tell apart unless you’re actively looking at your music player. The beginning and ending tracks bookend this album beautifully though, so it’s forgivable to a degree.

The somewhat overt Christian lyrical themes might throw people off seeming contradictory or ‘unmetal’ to some, but I think that’s a close-minded way to approach this and music like it. Not only does the band distance themselves from their contemporaries by doing something different like this, but the music almost seems to excel because of it. This is a showing of furious faith, pious pummeling and other alliteration I won’t bore you with. In short, this album was everything I didn’t expect it to be, and it’s wonderful for that. Most importantly: each and every musician here had a hand in crafting one of the more unique albums of the year.

Score: 8.5/10

Notable Tracks: “Parallel Kingdom”; “Salt of the Earth”; “Warfare”

FFO: Extol, At the Gates, Black Crown Initiate

Follow Fleshkiller on Facebook and Instagram. You can stream Awaken on Spotify and other streaming services, purchase the album digitally on Bandcamp and physically at PledgeMusic!

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