With the despairing state of the world at the moment, you would think this metalhead would convert to poptimism to maintain some sense of sanity. And to give poptimists their due credit, 2020 has been a pretty great year for pop music so far. But alas, I find myself delving further into the worlds of black metal, grindcore, and other extreme music – despite my better judgement. So with that, I was pleased to see some symphonic extreme metal come across the home offices of Burnt Coffee Inc. in the form of Foretoken’s debut album Ruin.
As you may have guessed with a name like Foretoken, the band takes a deep dive into big nerd territories – specifically mythology and folklore. The opening track “Bewildering Duress” is an example of more modern folklore, detailing the story of a father’s gruesome betrayal of his family after succumbing to winter madness. The rest of the album is a trip around the world of lore with stops at Norse mythology, Russian fairy tales, Greek mythology, Hindu epics, and Celtic folklore in that order. These stories are delivered aptly by the venomous howls of vocalist Dan Cooley. He makes up one half of the band’s core, and he penned these elaborate retellings. His lyrics come through surprisingly clear given the vocal style. On Ruin, it’s also clear that Cooley is an incredibly skilled vocalist.
The other half of Foretoken is guitarist Steve Redmond, who also arranged all of the orchestral accompaniments on the album. Redmond has definitely found the right balance between sweeping orchestrations and blistering guitar parts. His greatest skill though is writing intros – he nails every single one on the album’s six songs. Most of these intros tastefully build to brutal riffage. The best example of this is the brilliant piano opening to “His Rage Made Manifest”. The absolute ripper of a song “The Retribution” is an exception to this trend, going headfirst into 5 minutes of unrelenting blackened fury. I really appreciate the way the orchestration develops over the course of the song, but there’s something undeniably infectious about those simple quarter note hits in the verses.
While Cooley and Redmond are the main creative forces behind the band, their guests make a strong showing too. Drummer Hannes Grossmann (Necrophagist/Obscura) makes his mark through precise blast beats and blinding tom fills. He’s a monster behind the kit, and his style really meshes well with Redmond’s riffage. The band also brought on guitarist James Malone (Arsis) to collaborate on a fiery solo for “A Deathless Prison”.
It’s really hard to find any fault with the performances, however, the main issue on Ruin is a need for self-editing. While the lyrics and individual song sections are well-written, many of the songs are too long-winded. Neither of the 10-minute titans (“Hamartia” and “Indelibility of Iniquity”) warrant their extended lengths. Both songs have some great sections (especially the first few minutes of “Hamartia”), but their extensiveness is a hindrance overall. Also, several songs have these breaks that seem like an ending, only to pick right back up with repetition of a previous section. While I’m very keen on “The Retribution”, the song may have been more effective if it just ended at the pause at 4:47. Despite the album title, Ruin is more like an unfinished sculpture than one torn down. The craftsmanship is excellent, but the finished product still needs to be chiseled out.
Other than the need for a compositional haircut, Ruin is a very strong debut – and a well-produced one at that. I’m very excited to see what Foretoken does next, but I’m sure I’ll be blasting songs like “The Retribution” several hundred more times before then.
Best Tracks: The Retribution, His Rage Made Manifest, Bewildering Duress
Weakest Tracks: Indelibility of Iniquity
FFO: Dimmu Borgir, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Wintersun
Overall Score: B