PICK OF THE WEEK: Alda take heed over planet that slowly burns with atmospheric ‘A Distant Fire’

This past summer, the Pacific Northwest was overcome with residual smoke that wafted over the region from wildfires burning in places such as Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Adding a climate that’s consistently shifting to warmer temperatures (fuck off, if you’re shaking your head in denial), it made the problem that much worse and created some surreal and horrifying environmental issues.

Long-running atmospheric black metal band Alda are native to that region (hailing from Tacoma, Wash.) and have spent the bulk of their run creating music that basks in the majesty of their natural surroundings. But on “A Distant Fire,” the band’s fourth record and first in six years (their last was 2015’s “Passages”), the band—vocalist/drummer Michael Korchonnoff, guitarists Timothy Brown and Jace Bruton, bassist Stephanie Bruton—warns of a dire future that impacts us all as we watch fire glow in the distance, ash falling on us from the skies. We have not been kind to our home, and capitalistic bullshit and political theater have prevented us from really taking this seriously, which is a stupefying thing to realize. And here we are, watching the world burn as we stare into hazy skies, wondering how toxic the air and our surroundings are becoming.  

“First Light” dawns, an instrumental open with clean guitars and a rustic atmosphere, giving off an autumnal, deep forest vibe as it works into “Stonebreaker” that rushes open and quickly blisters. The emotion is unavoidable as the band delivers a catapulting haze and infectious energy that gets into your bloodstream. There’s a push and pull, as the tempo goes from slow to stormy, and later, the riffs have their way and race toward you, your heart rushes, and the wild cries rustle through the leaves, coming out of a deluge into a final passage that basks in serenity. “Drawn Astray” runs 10:19, the second-longest track here, and it marries acoustics with an air-infusive haze before the guitar work begins to charge. The shrieks rain down and punish while the leads stretch and deliver great energy, angling into a brief trickle where you can catch your breath. Clean calls send chills before the track explodes, the fury spreads, and the clouds open and drench the ground, bowing out to quiet guitars.

“Forlorn Peaks” stretches 9:40 and swims in burning guitars and rushing growls, bringing unquestioned intensity that makes the earth shake. The guitars cut into flesh again, blistering as they make up a huge portion of this massive assault, eventually melting into a mid-tempo gust that keeps the waters bubbling, with the different shades coming unglued. The vocals smash, the guitar work agitates blazes, and the track dissolves into instrumental interlude “Loo-Wit” that settles into rustling explosions, strummed guitars, and a cooling temperature. “A Distant Fire” is the 16:37-long closer that starts with acoustics and clean singing, heartfelt guitars, and eventually an active gust that brings in the power. The track is shredded as savage howls aim toward the gut while the band keeps battling, aggravating the fires they have tended all along this record. Calls ring out as the pace comes to life, the melodies hurtle, and the mounting pressure comes to a head and mixes into a synth murk, washing into acoustics and crackling fires that make up the album’s final resting place.

Alda long have paid homage to nature and the breathtaking world that surrounds them in the Pacific Northwest, but on “A Distant Fire,” we get a more troublesome look, one that doesn’t necessarily have a healthy future. It’s no question we live in uncertain times, and our world is in need of protection more than ever, but so many seem hesitant to lift a finger to help. The fires are building, the smoke is thickening, and if we aren’t better stewards, there could be a time where the elements we need to survive turn against us for good.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/aldacascadia

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://store.eisenton.com/

Or here (Europe): https://store.eisenton.de/en/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/

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