Fleshkiller may very well be the ultimate Facedown Records band. Leading the label’s 20-year dominion of Christian heavy metal and hardcore into the next era, the international metal supergroup finds the frontmen and guitarists of two preceding Facedown acts – Extol’s Ole Børud and The Burial’s Elisha Mullins – in a brutal but beautiful combo with bassist Ole Vistnes (Shining) and drummer Andreas Skorpe Sjøen (Umpfel). These spiritually charged heavy hitters hailing from Scandinavia and the American Midwest deliver a tenacious and ambition-exceeding full length with their debut album, Awaken.
Combining the flash of thrash and death metal with the precision of progressive rock, Awaken won’t leave any fan of technical, extreme music wanting. But the proceedings aren’t plodding, either. Forgoing the one-note gambits employed by many metal acts, Fleshkiller elevates their genre with a refreshing spread of savagely catchy, hard-rocking anthems comprised of breakneck shredding, meticulous rhythms, guttural growls and sonorous singing. The rapid-fire charge of “Parallel Kingdom,” the spirited swing of “Window of Time,” and everything in-between are worth repeated listens. There are also tasteful adornments at nearly every turn; for example, the soft, surprise ending of “Salt of the Earth” left us with a smile. Further cementing Awaken’s legacy among the Facedown canon is its excellent production work from War of Ages and Hope for the Dying guitarist Jack Daniels who mixed the album with a profound ear for tech-metal’s tastiest aspects, and this thing is delicious. Who would’ve guessed that The Burial’s deathcore masterpiece, In the Taking of Flesh, could coalesce so well with the spirit of Extol’s self-titled 2013 tour de force for a metal magnum opus greater than the sum of its parts?
Most impressively, however, is the worshipful atmosphere in action among the controlled chaos of Awaken. “Love your enemies,” Mullins viciously snarls on “Salt of the Earth,” just after ripping one of the best death-metal growls on record this year. “Bless the ones who curse you, pray for those who persecute the children of the Most High.” It’s just one of the many devout moments on a record that will have you unconsciously headbanging in fits of passionate praise. This is a worship album, a heavy-metal high point, and the unexpected but satisfying culmination of two decades of Facedown Records talent. Close your eyes, listen to their call, and imagine the Fleshkiller foursome’s faces carved solemnly into granite, because this is 2017’s Mount Rushmore of metal albums.
Photo by Jørn Veberg