With a sound as unrelenting and unforgiving as a towering storm Lions Among Men, the new album from The Firstborn is a devastating and compulsive smothering of the senses. It does not have an explosive destructive might that strikes with a swift vengeance but instead consumes and over whelms with a merciless sonic tirade upon the senses, leaving them under an aural avalanche of intensity. The album from the Portuguese metalers is a directly testing and formidable release that has no qualms in taking one to their limits in focus and patience. It is also a deeply rewarding release once given the strength and patience needed to discover its wealth of satisfying sounds and invention. For many it will be too much work but for others it will be an enlightening experience that works on many levels.
Though the seeds of the band go back to 1995 it was with the release of their concept album based on the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, The Unclenching Of Fists in 2005 that the band came to the notice of a wider audience, and though the album due to poor distribution did not find itself reaching as many as it deserved the media was openly on its side. This was followed by The Noble Search in 2008; furthering their sound and direction it explored the Buddhist Scriptures and the multiple paths to nirvana in concept. Lions Among Men sees the band return with an even more closely united blend of metal intensity and the fusion of Buddhist philosophy. Powerful and provoking it leaves no sense untouched and gasping for air nor any thought lingering without meaning or at least a question to contemplate.
Released via Rastilho Records, Lions Among Men opens with a slowly dawning atmosphere, slightly foreboding and partially inviting. The title track emerges at its own pace, as if it is watching and sizing up the listener. As the low grizzled tones of vocalist Bruno Fernandes slowly grind upon the ear the song expands, continuing its lingering emergence into the light. Almost five minutes in and mid-point of the song the guitars light up with Nuno Gervásio and Filipe Lima exploring sounds and its recipient with inciting sonic stabs and twisting riffs. The song offers technical metal without the embellishments most bands attach to it, ensuring the song and subsequently the album intrigues and engages deeply whilst manipulating with the immense heaviness of sound surrounding it.
The following track Without As Within though with a lighter initial tone carries on as the opener ended. This marks the only real issue with the album in that overall there is a similarity between many of the songs which is hard to dismiss. Within the songs though as here with the drums of Rolando Barros barracking and bullying the ear whilst the vocals switch and vary wonderfully, there is distinct variety but you have to work quite hard at times to find it, questioning how many are patient and determined enough. Obviously that is really a flaw of the listener and not the band and once inside to play with the treasures the songs are immensely gratifying and unique.
The further in the greater the quality of Lions Among Men, the likes of Vajra Eyes and Eight Flashing Lances exploring further and shining brighter. The latter of these two with its seamless mix of sitar majesty and powerful metal strength is a mighty black metal flavoured feast for the ear. This is equalled and then eclipsed by the closing duo of tracks, the album ending on a real high. Nothing Attained, Nothing Spoken though a less intense track still ripples from the drums and dark impressive riffs of bassist Hélder Malícia. It swoops and teases the senses, pouncing with mighty riffs and venomous growls from within its depths. Sounds Liberated as Mantra ends things perfectly; the lumbering intent and defined groove a thrilling companion to the Indian spiced sounds and chants. The instrumental though lengthy is vibrant and a welcome guest in the ear.
Though Lions Among Men does not always make it easy to stay patient it is an excellent album that invites and requires constant attention. Give it and The Firstborn that and the rewards are greatly impressive.