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Black metal has been to a lot of places over the past decade. It’s gone shoegazing, it’s soared through the cosmos, it’s gotten jazzy and progressive, and as an influence, it’s touched nearly every other metal subgenre. As Kvaen, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jakob Björnfot drew on black metal’s essential building blocks -- rasping vocals, thrumming guitars, an undeniably sinister atmosphere, and the vibrant rhythm section to fuel it all -- and has crafted a thrilling record that complements our current age of 1990s nostalgia while lending an exciting new voice to the ongoing black metal conversation.

Cast yourself into the sacrificial flames with our exclusive full stream of Kvaen’s debut album The Funeral Pyre.

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Kvaen is a solo project, but one with an ample stable of collaborators. While Björnfot performs all of The Funeral Pyre’s bass and keyboards, and the vast majority of its vocals and guitar, he elected to eschew programmed drums in favor of live drumming. In doing so, Björnfot was lucky enough to source not just one, but four talented drummers. Here’s how all that went down:

"Danni [Lyse Jelsgaard] only played on the first single; he had the time and learned the song very quickly,” explains Björnfot. “Perra Karlsson was hired a long time ago to play on ‘Bestial Winter’ and ‘Revenge by Fire.’ Freddy [Ortscheid], who played on 'The Funeral Pyre,’ ‘As We Serve the Masters Plan,’ and ‘Septem Peccata Mortalia,’ got injured during the recording of the two last songs, so I called Tommi [Tuhkala]."

As a result, Björnfot opened up a whole new way of listening to the record: dialing in to pick out one drummer’s approach from the next. Despite this being a four-drummer record, the differences aren’t in-your-face noticeable unless you’re listening closely for them -- Tuhkala’s ride cymbal flourishes, Karlsson’s preference for higher-pitched toms -- and this unified feel reflects the discipline and skill of Björnfot’s chosen percussive partners.

It’s also a testament to the talents of engineer Owe Inborr, tasked with creating a holistic drum sound out of four distinct recordings. The resulting mix preserves a bit of each drummer’s individuality -- Jelsgaard’s snare is a standout -- while ensuring that these timbral variations don’t impede the perception of the album as a cohesive work.

Kvaen’s black metal hungrily ensnares multiple other genres in its grasp: significant thrash and classical speed metal influences pervade along with plenty of chuggy melodeath half-time grooves and rolling kicks. The Funeral Pyre’s clever songwriting dances through rhythmic and occasional tempo shifts that keep the music from ever becoming predictable. There’s a complete dynamic range on the record with Björnfot’s blackened melodies running through as the linking thread, and the guitar solos -- including a contribution on the title track from Necrophobic's Sebastian Ramstedt -- substantially amp up Kvaen’s melodic leanings.

“I wanted to mix all the genres I love and make something that sounds like me. The last thing I want Kvaen to be is just another black metal band,” says Björnfot. Here, he’s eminently successful. The Funeral Pyre is canonically evil black metal, but it’s in on the gag, grinning maniacally along with you as it rips you through its twisted, thrashy paces.

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The Funeral Pyre releases on February 28 on CD, vinyl, and digital via Black Lion Records.

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