The Firstborn
Lions Among Men

It’s not often you get to cover Buddhist-inspired metal, much less Buddhist metal from Portugal. I was very impressed by The Firstborn’s fourth release, The Noble Search, back in 2009. It blended prog and melodic death with thick, roiling sludge, not unlike Mastodon or Gojira, and then blessed it all with a breeze of East Indian instruments. If they had added a lot more of that orchestration and atmosphere, I would have been even more entranced.

Now, three years later, it appears that some of those prayers have been answered. Lions Among Men is awash in sitars and mysticism, trembling cymbals and whispering chimes, and the way they writhe and coil in and out of the band’s heavy, rhythmic crash is powerful and mesmerizing. Too bad, then, that the songs they’re lashed to are so dull.

For some reason, The Firstborn have smoothed out the angular riffage and choppier rhythms of their previous release in favor of a more ominous and monotonous wash of mid-tempo sludge. It starts with the title track, a slow build of growled vocals and mystical trails, like the veils being pulled away from perception and reality to reveal something greater, grander, infinitely wondrous. As the intensity builds, climbing and cresting in one tumbling, sludgy roar, you wait for the big crescendo to hit, for revelation and amazement to come pouring in with one massive punch of a peak. And instead, the song plateaus. It winds in on itself again a few times before finally cresting to that awaited climax, but by this time, the drama has been squandered. The peak isn’t loud enough, crazy enough, impressive enough. Hardly a revelation at all, in fact. And so it goes with most of the album: long, drawn-out songs that lope along at a frustratingly mid-tempo rumble, with a thick but overly-balanced production that offers too little contrast.

There are a few bright spots, of course – how could there not be, with such an interesting concept and palette? There are some busier, more urgent and involving rhythms in tracks like “Without as Within” and “Eight Flashing Lances” (the album’s best and most dynamic track). And as I said above, when the instrumentation comes in hard and heavy, as on “Wantless” and “Vajra Eyes,” it’s entrancing. There’s a great synergy between percussion and orchestration in these passages, and this is what should really define The Firstborn’s sound, not the long, building expanses of monotony that dominate much of this album.

I also have to mention the vocals again, as I did in the last review. The growls are blunted, muffled, heavy, a lot like Troy Sanders of Mastodon, and they work fine. The clean vocals that might throw you, though – they’re a weird, baritone croon that half-slink, half-melt around the melody lines. It’s obviously a stylistic choice, and (forgive my ignorance) possibly inspired by an Eastern or Buddhist chanting style, but all the same, you’ll either come to appreciate it, or you won’t. I’m still on the fence. “Eight Flashing Lances” features a higher-pitched croon, closer to conventional clean singing in progressive metal, and it’s far more successful.

You’d expect an album titled Lions Among Men to be ferocious, unrestrained and exciting, but instead, The Noble Search, which suggests a far more meditative experience, was the more dynamic album of the two. It’s a shame because the concept is unique and the instrumentation is well-integrated, but the revelations veiled at the summits of this journey are hardly worth the climb.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
May 4th, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Guilliame

    I like this.


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