The Funeral Pyre - Vultures at Dawn
Prosthetic Records
Blackened Thrash/Doom
8 songs (44:39)
Release year: 2010
Prosthetic Records
Reviewed by Tyler

It’s no secret that quality black metal hasn’t exactly been bursting from America since the genre’s birth in the eighties and nineties. Besides a few notable exceptions (Wolves in the Throne Room, Nachtmystium), America has yet to produce any black metal groups of any real consequence. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fundamental gap between the black metal philosophy and the typical American lifestyle; in both a lyrical and musical sense, black metal seeks to reclaim the past (minimalist musicianship and production, lyrical content about ancient subjects such as Paganism and wars), while America is a country sprinting recklessly towards the future. Black metal looks to reject the modern, commercialized world, while America is very much the epicenter of it. It is odd, then, that one of the bleakest metal records of 2010 comes from Southern California, the bright and sunny epitome of all that is shallow and excessive in America. The Funeral Pyre, a black metal band from this most unlikely of regions, has indeed created an album that is about as bleak as they come, both lyrically and musically, with their 2010 release, Vultures at Dawn.

Vultures may be the first album that I have heard from this La Habra, California quintet, but apparently they have a pretty solid back catalogue; Vultures is their fourth full length, and all I have heard about their previous albums has been relatively positive. On this particular album, their sound can at times be your typical blast-beat-plus-minor-chord-raping fare, but the band throw in some pretty impressive sections of doom and thrash that keep things, as the kids say, fresh. Of the eight songs, seven of them have a number of moments that explore what would appear to be the extent of the band’s arsenal; blast beat/dissonance chord section, super-slow doom part, sweet thrashy part, and repeat. And this actually works quite well, as repetitive as it may seem. The drummer (Alex, as he’s referred to in the liner notes) plays an incredibly tight blast, and has a tasteful feel for using his different cymbals to accentuate the mood of the song. In the more black metal moments of the songs, the guitarists (James and Justin) play some relatively interesting melodies constructed on the typical minor chords and about two variations of distortion; black metal vets have heard this kind of thing plenty of times before, but the guitar work certainly provides a thoroughly somber mood, and it is apparent that this is exactly what they were going for. And as run-of-the-mill as the band’s black metal chops may be, their true shining moments come when they step outside of the blast-beat box. Two of the album’s greatest highlights are the jarring, dissonant dual solo towards the end of the dirge-like Monolith (the one song on the album that is totally absent of blasts) and Personal Exile, a slab of truly masterful blackened thrash. Vocalist John Strachan’s croaky screech serves its purpose, although it wore on me as the album went on.

In true American fashion, the lyrics shun the typical black metal subjects (Satan, Norse mythology, war, hate, ect) for a more personal approach, dealing instead with loneliness, isolation, suicide, desperation, and fittingly bleak subjects like that. As with the band’s music, however, they take these tried-and-true themes and execute them well enough and with a degree of individuality that few bands in this genre manage. Plenty of bands have combined black metal and thrash, or black metal and doom, but no other band that I have heard combines all three in quite the same way that The Funeral Pyre does. Ultimately however, some of the more drawn-out blast-beat sections or doom bits start to drag, the thrash parts seem to pass too quickly, and the album starts to get a little boring. The band does manage to create an incredibly dark atmosphere throughout, and in the moments when everything clicks and the blackened bleakness comes together with some of the album’s stronger riffs, Vultures shines. I will also mention that when I first heard this album, I was thoroughly unimpressed, and was ready to give it a score in the 50-60 range. In my most recent listens however, I gained quite an appreciation for it, and the listen through that I enjoyed most was my most recent one that I did while I was writing this review. As such, this album has progressed from one that I was planning on shelving promptly after my review to one that I will revisit soon whenever I have a taste for the dreary and depressing, and I eventually make an effort to check out and possibly review some of the band’s earlier releases. Hopefully, the band can consolidate their excellently bleak atmosphere with the more thrilling, riff-oriented moments on Vultures on future releases, in which case they will be flirting with greatness.

Killing Songs :
Vultures, Monolith, Personal Exile, Seeking Flesh and Bone, Clarity of Time
Tyler quoted 71 / 100
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