A Distant Fire
Review by Fernando on September 29, 2021.
Among the many subgenres and regional scenes within black metal, an interesting regional style has always been the "Cascadian black metal" out of the American Pacific Northwest. Most people are familiar with Wolves In The Throne Room but another band that came out of Washington and has made a name for themselves is Alda, who after a very long time are coming back with their fourth LP A Distant Fire, to be released by Eisenwald.
At first glance Alda seems like a stereotypical Cascadian atmospheric black metal band. Although that could be argued as the case for their debut record but while I can admit I wasn't very familiar with them, the band really came into their own with their sophomore record Tahoma and that was the jumping point of their continued development. While they can be described as Cascadian or atmospheric black metal, their sound has less in common with pagan or somber leanings and is more influenced by classic heavy metal, prog rock and a heavy dose of American folk music where the atmosphere is carried by those folk tendencies while the band display galloping riffs, sorrowful melodies and intense performances. That brings us to their most recent effort A Distant Fire, where the band continued their refinement of those elements.
The album opens in a familiar way. A folk heavy introductory track with the Americana folk sounds that evoke the feeling of the Pacific Northwest and a tranquil yet melancholic feel which serves as a prelude to the band's aggressive and straightforward approach. Black metal is one of those genres which many people would hesitate to call "beautiful", but the way Alda's music can seamlessly switches between aggressive majesty into forlorn contemplation is nothing short of beautiful.
The standout are of course the guitars and vocals. This is where you can hear that the band are unabashedly black metal band and the influence of Norwegian black metal has always been present and at time unavoidable. What's so unique about Alda is that they're one of the few black metal bands that fully embrace their American folk roots, much like their fellow American act, Panopticon. The key of Alda's unique sound is how they filtered American folk through black metal, and its noticeable through the guitar work. The riffs and hooks have this careful balance of being very melodic but without going into an upbeat or, for lack of a better term "happy" tone, even when softer strings like acoustic guitars, cellos and in the percussion section are used or when they use a folk drum called a Bodhrán.
The band fully mesh the beauty of tranquility of folk with black metal and the combination works perfectly, which is of course thanks in large part to the band's overall performance. The band as a unit have a precise focus which makes the combining of folk and metal compelling and at no point do the harsh vocals of drummer Michael Korchonnoff, or the clean vocals of bassist Stephanie Knittle and guitarist Jace Bruton feel disjointed; everything fits, all the instruments play a role and nothing is wasted. The long waiting period of 6 years is felt on all the album as every song, every instrument, every composition and note feels carefully put together by the band over the course of 6 years, as it is a fully realized endeavor.
Overall Alda continue to be a band worth checking in the wild landscape of Cascadian black meta but what’s even more impressive is how they released a new album in the same year as Wolves In The Throne Room and Panopticon, and they succeeded in standing on their own next to those giants.
Best tracks: 'Stonebreaker', 'Drawn Astray', 'A Distant Fire'
Rating: 9.1 out of 10154