Back in 2013 Christian metal, admittedly, wasn't in the best of places. It saw bands recycle the same metalcore cliches and tropes and nothing new was being offered to yearning listeners. Then, Extol announced their return from hiatus with the release of a brand new self-titled album and the genre received a resuscitation of sorts as excitement about a classic and beloved staple spread. Today, Christian metal is thankfully in a much better place. This year alone has seen plenty of innovative releases that have breathed new life into a genre that was once thought stale. Then came the announcement of Fleshkiller, the latest passion project of Extol's Ole Borud, and the excitement grew once again.
Firstly, it's important to lay down some history. Fleshkiller was originally formed by Ole Borud and Peter Dalbakk of Vardoger and Schaliach. Peter departed before recording to focus on life and family and this led to Elisha Mullins (of The Burial and A Hill to Die Upon respectively) to join the band. With two metal veterans leading the group, many were expecting a result that was nothing short of superb. Now that Awaken is finally in listeners' hands, has it lived up to the hype? The answer is a resounding yes.
Awaken closely follows the progressive footsteps of Borud's previous projects and marries them with crushing brutality and riffs that are as memorable as they are monstrous. While the band takes plenty of cues from both artist's discographies, Fleshkiller presents a sound that is all their own. Lead single "Parallel Kingdom," for example, opens with Borud's signature clean vocals backed by a soaring guitar riff before jumping straight into an aggressive frenzy led by Mullins's harsher vocals. The guitar goes every which way, taking a frantically fast paced route one second and a slower, crunchier sound the next. This is all weaved together by Andreas Skorpe Sjøen's excellent drumming and Ole Vistnes's bass. The technicality on display is incredible, keeping the music tight and cohesive yet giving the listener much to dig into and explore at the same time. Nothing ever feels repeated or overdrawn, and when each song averages five minutes, that's an impressive feat all on its own.
Lyrically, the album follows Extol's tradition of Christ-centred worship and Biblically inspired anthems. "Salt Of The Earth" is an immediate highlight here, beginning with a slow and atmospheric intro that eventually builds into an encompassing array of growls and phenomenal riffs as Mullins's screams, "Love your enemies. Bless the ones who curse you. / Pray for those who persecute the children of the Most High. / Unchain the prisoners of wicked injustice. / Break the yoke of the oppressed. / Bring the favor from above. / Salt of the earth.... You are the carriers of light..." "Secret Chambers" is another brilliant cut that explores the nature of faith and loyalty, "Faith is evidence of things unseen. / A journey not by sight, in search of what is hoped for. / Moving with confidence, regardless of the tides. / Learning how to love. Strengthened from above. / 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." "True Image" is unabashedly worshipful and will most likely stand as one of the best songs of the year, "True image. Sustainer of the universe. Mighty and powerful. / Every knee shall bow. Every tongue will confess: You are the Holy One. / All creation sing of the glory You bring. You are the Holy One."
And on and on I could go, pointing to the theologically rich lyricism and the sublime musicality on display all throughout Awaken's fifty-minute runtime. In the end, Ole Borud has given the metal community another masterpiece to cherish for years to come.
- Review date: 9/15/17, written by Lucas Munachen of Jesusfreakhideout.com