Review - Fireproven

Tree with doorways in branches

Jon Britton tests out the Finnish prog metal band Fireproven and listens to both the Omnipresence EP and Future Diary album...
 

It’s no secret that Scandinavia has produced some of the most remarkable and acclaimed metal bands in the entire genre. Directing our attention to Finland, specifically, it's mind boggling how many adroit acts have surfaced from this heavy metal powerhouse. From early heavy metal pioneers Oz and Zero Nine, to power metal legends Stratovarius and Children of Bodom, to the widespread-reach of symphonic metallers Nightwish and Apocalyptica, to producing some of the very-best melodic death metal bands of all time (notably Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum), it’s clear that the Nordic weather, rugged scenery and polar nights must inspire the nation’s musicians to brave the paths of heavy music; these mentioned musicians are only the tip of a very long-term and still very-much active metal scene throughout the country. All this, and we’re not even getting into the highly influential metal communities within their neighbouring lands.

This brings us on to a more obscure player in the scene: Fireproven. Formed in 2006, this progressive metal outfit has two major releases under their belt; a 2013 EP, Omnipresence, and their debut full-length, Future Diary, released in 2018, along with a couple of singles which appear on the latter.

Of course, the term “progressive metal” is extremely loose, with it being used as a blanket-term within metal to describe bands with a “big” sound and long compositions, in addition to those who push unconventional musicianship and time-signatures with the intention of truly moving the sound of metal forward. So, do Fireproven lean more towards the grandiose-songwriting of Opeth, the bizarre melodies and concepts of Voivod, or perhaps the mechanical, odd-time-signature chugging of Meshuggah?

While Future Diary might be their larger release, the Omnipresence EP still features the band with a strong progressive attitude, with the opener New Born Truth opening to a flurry of odd rhythms and chugging, Meshuggah-esque guitars. The main issue here is that, while I do like progressive metal, I feel that Meshuggah’s repetitive style and binary chugs take a step-forward with their time signatures, and two-steps back with their actual riffs; it’s just not my personal pick within the genre. Firepoven, however, sets themselves apart from this with the use of backing synths to fill the background atmosphere, leading to their sound feeling much more soaring as opposed to strictly mechanical. This mentality, with their electronics often taking prominence amidst the metallic musicianship, reminds me very-much of the also-Finnish melodic death metallers Omnium Gatherum, whom I’ve already sung the praises of. Please note, as a forewarning, expect this to be a frequent comparison throughout the article. Despite the fact that I like the use of synths, Fireproven can have the tendency to mix them slightly too high, a problem which we’ll analyse more later on. 

Early Amorphis is another comparison that springs to mind, especially with Fireproven’s generous use of clean vocals. In fact, I could imagine Tomi Koivusaari himself at the helm; it’s clear where guitarist/vocalist Janne Väätämöinen has taken inspiration. Then again, I would use this point to discredit Janne; in fact, in several cases throughout these two releases, I would say he puts just as much (if not more) emotion into his delivery. However, while Koivusaari undertook both harsh and clean vocal duties for Amorphis, Fireproven have taken the Insomnium route and split the vocal roles between the Väätämöinen siblings; their bassist (Juha Väätämöinen) for growls, and the aforementioned Janne for cleans.

The Omnipresence EP continues with As Above, So Below, which abandons much of the previous progressive elements for something that sounds more like Hate Crew Deathroll-era Children of Bodom, albeit with the band’s differing vocal style, as well as an atmospheric mid-break in its six-minute run-time. I would understand this influence considering their homeland, and I happen to enjoy the popcorn-silliness of Children of Bodom, but it feels like more of a step-back from a band which (in this case) can’t seem to decide whether to fully dedicate themselves to a progressive outlook, or more of the mainstream melodeath one.

This being said, the band seems more intent to stick to the former with the 10-minute epic, 18 Hells, to close the EP. Needless to say, this is the band at their most ambitious, attempting to cram a whirlpool of different instruments and songwriting techniques into a space of time that feels shorter than it actually is. Since the time flies by, this must be a fairly entertaining track, right? I would chalk it up to “mostly”; I feel that the first four minutes are perhaps too far-reaching, blending industrial rhythms, muted guitar riffs and piano passages, then evolving into distorted chugs and whirling synths that have their previously-mentioned problem of being mixed too loud, coming off as grating. While this whirlwind of instruments doesn’t lack sonic aspirations, I feel it’s possible to include too many instruments/sounds at a single time; this is a case-in-point. 18 Hells picks up a bit more in its mid-point, allowing the Janne’s voice to take prominence once again, before transitioning into another synth-solo that’s much more tastefully mixed, interlocking with the Väätämöinen sibling’s back-and-forth vocals. I’m also happy to say the second half of the song is the high point of the EP, as it throws away with the boring intro riffs of the track for a more elating blend of guitar solos and synth lines. This draws Omnipresence to a close.

This would mark over four years of absence from the band. During this time, the band recruited new vocalist Sanna Sola to add further development to their melodies. After their lengthy radio-silence came the single Shine in 2017, featuring a formidable list of additional choir members and audio engineers. The next year, there came the single The Tower. This then brings us to the band’s debut full-length, Future Diary, also released in 2018. Both of these singles were featured as the albums first two tracks, respectively. 

Person sitting cross legged in front of a sun


Getting straight into the album, let’s talk about Shine. More importantly, the fact that as soon as I turned it on, I immediately checked my iTunes to make sure I hadn’t put on an Omnium Gatherum track by mistake. Cutting, I’m sure, but the similarity I felt was genuinely uncanny. This isn’t to say Shine is a bad song; I actually think it’s quite a rousing introduction, and I’m happy they didn’t take the route of aimless, “atmospheric” ambience that many other progressive outfits can’t seem to resist for their intros. The addition of Noora Louhimo’s vocals is also a very welcome addition, giving the track an Unleash The Archers-esque power-metal flair, especially when her voice is allowed to breathe freely in the track’s second half. The subtle use of strings and choir backings are also appreciated. Unfortunately, this doesn’t save the track, which is plagued by a feeling of being stretched-out for the sake of it, with riffs and chorus melodies feeling just a bit too repetitive over the course of its six minutes.

Be that as it may, these criticisms are soon put to bed with the following single, The Tower. I can safely say this track is really something special. Despite my love of synth-laden melodeath, this six-and-a-half-minute tour-de-force is a real treat. Janne’s voice is chillingly powerful amidst some of the best keyboard work and songwriting the band’s offered thus far, including a backing choir and even some saxophone usage (which seems to have grown popular since Rivers of Nihil utilised it). As rapturously epic as it is bitingly cold, if you want to listen to Fireproven at their very best, look no further. This one floored me and will remain in my rotation for some time.

The album continues with some mixed results. The third track, Sea of Fear, acts as something of a slog, with the band’s chord progressions feeling like a re-tread of what they’ve done already; it’s all starting to muddle together within the same chords and chugs, seemingly on repeat, with the exception of a fairly standard tapping-riff making an appearance. The solo also suffers here, opening in awkwardly and feeling slightly off-rhythm. The atmospheric electronics and tame time-signature toying in the song can’t forgive the fact that this is just a forgettable cut. Perhaps this is just the fault of the track coming after such a high point for the record.

However, the fourth track, Layers in Time, offers the same thrills as The Tower, despite being a slower burner at seven and a half minutes. This being said, the song can suffer from Fireproven’s aforementioned tendency to mix their synths too high in the song’s second half, making them feel at odds with the rest of the music. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a consistent issue; it seems to only be prevalent when the synths are in their own respective “solo” phase. Otherwise, the band uses them quite tastefully. What the band needs to take on board is that it’s absolutely not a necessity to mix an instrument higher to make the listener pay attention to it; attentive music enthusiasts will pick up on your synth solos regardless if they’re doing something unique or in contrast with the band’s sound as a whole.

Next up, the album’s title track bursts in with a traditional, rock-influenced solo before Janne’s clean vocals take point for the majority. This dominance of Janne’s cleans seems to be a trademark for the band, with Juha’s growls being side-lined; a contrast to Omnium Gatherum (fourth mention, I know), who tend to depend on their growls. While I’ve touched on the fact that Janne’s vocal style is slightly derivative, his sense of melody is consistently enjoyable.  

The same enjoyment, however, cannot be said for the band’s songwriting. I feel that Fireproven’s self-marketed “long, imagery songs” are much longer than they need to be, with verses dragging on without any real grip, and chorus passages that can be inconsistent (either hitting very hard, or just feeling lukewarm). I’d also chalk this up this tedious feeling of the guitarwork. Riffs blend together throughout Fireproven’s material, with the same-old. down-tuned chugs, similar-feeling musical keys, and throwaway progressions (barely consisting of anything past the metallic necessities) cropping up time-and-time again and letting the synths do all the busy-work. It’s a disappointment and adding a stock-standard metal solo to the second half of your songs isn’t going to close the wound. This led me to question why I enjoyed The Tower so much. That’s because, upon revisiting it, the riffs are serviceable but prescriptive; it’s the synths and vocals that push the melodies forward.

This is likely due to the lack of a lead guitarist, with Janne juggling both vocal and guitar duties at once, focusing on his voice rather than on his riffing. Playing a speedy solo when no vocals are present is fine and all, but the real challenge is making your chords and rhythm guitarwork consistently interesting, regardless of whether you’re doing vocals or not.

Fireproven combat this lacking element by adding more instruments into the mix and drawing more focus to them alongside the vocals, supposedly surprising the listener at every turn. Unfortunately, this can feel like more of a musical band-aid. Metal, for me, has always been about the riffs. Add some dissonance, or perhaps take the melodeath route and add some more hooks, leads and melodies. Either way, in their current state, the actual progressions negligible.

With these criticisms out in the open, Future Diary’s second half picks up speed after these few bumps. Wrathful Beast seems to improve on their guitar problems initially, featuring much groovier riffs and some vibrato thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, the key doesn’t seem to have changed that much, leading to the track being somewhat throwaway, with the band’s other elements of vocal/synth prominence feeling recycled.

I can, however, fully praise the next track, the slower-paced Shame, which offers some of the best vocal performances on the album, with Laine’s voice working alongside Janne’s in the band’s attempt at a more crescendoing piece, exploding into anthemic melody and gorgeous string-led sections in its second half. Consider this another highlight.

This excellence is continued with Empty Openings, opening with a more unique, jazz-influenced passage complete with saxophones and lax rhythms, along with some exceptional synth lines (though they suffer from the same-old, questionable mixing tactic, this time it feels more justified). The track them seamlessly delves into metallic chugs, with guest vocalist Siiri Laine’s singing and Juha’s growls blending together as one. I can’t stress to you how difficult this is do to tastefully, but Fireproven have succeeded with flying colours. The background electronics add to this, making this track a real stand-out. The problem here is the same as before: the riffs, which echo past criticisms. The guitar on this track operate as a bass would: it holds down the groove. Sad to say, this is strictly utilitarian; there’s not much else beyond that.

Then again, the track Alone in The Dark features riffs that feel much more fleshed out, as well as blast-beat drumming that showcases Nuutti Hannula’s skills on the kit. What frustrates me is this back-and-forth in quality that’s on offer here with the guitarwork; if you can write riffs like this, why are your rhythm-guitar sections still suffering? This isn’t just chalked up to the aforementioned issue with Janne taking on too much; he seems to play arpeggios while doing vocals without any problem in this situation.

The album finishes with the long-winded epic, The Interior Castle. Despite having a longer run-time, this song is far less of a slog compared to other tracks. Although featuring a fairly standard build-up in the first half, consisting of sounds the band has already explored (with the addition of a few interesting time signatures and some more use of the saxophone), the track’s second half steals the show with even more unique sounds, including an acoustic solo playing off a piano passage (which is a real stand-out that ends too soon) and even some throat singing. A guitar solo comes in, mimicking a further piano melody as a backing force, just before all three vocalists close the record, with Laine and Janne adding an elating crescendo before Juha tears it down with his growls. We conclude with some darker, dissonance-dabbling riffs; another showcase that the band can write decent guitar passages if they want to (usually when Juha is doing the vocals).

This is what’s so baffling for me. If Fireproven were to create an album in the vein of some sonic explorations and not others, we would have a release which I would sing the praises of from atop the hills. But I took a step back and considered this: Fireproven aren’t an established band, and this is their debut, after all. With this mentality, Future Diary’s weaknesses can largely be seen as the unfortunate after-effects of ambition, with the band’s experimental, far-reaching mentality proving that they’ve taken their progressive label seriously. With this in mind, it’s clear that Future Diary contains plenty of passion from a new-coming force, and it’s a considerable feat.

All this being said, my main problem with Fireproven’s sound is that this is that, on the complete flipside, their songwriting and riffs can be very weak, and counteractively can feel like a tried-and-tested formula; while the Omnium Gatherum comparison is tiresome, I feel it’s justified. From the chugging riffs and long compositions to the soaring synth-work and monolithic sound, it’s a similarity and unfortunate truth I couldn’t shake. The difference is Omnium knew how to keep their guitar melodies gripping; with Markus Vanhala at the helm, I would expect no less. Put succinctly, Fireproven have taken away the melodic guitarwork of the former and opted for more synths and clean vocals, instead.

This isn’t to say Fireproven are the only offenders when it comes to derivation. Keeping within Scandinavian borders, from Norwegian black metal to Swedish death metal, a considerable part of the metal community is almost entirely based on derision and elitist dedication to a specific sound, and we’re not even getting into the subgenres/fusion-genres/microgenres spread throughout the rest of the world. With this being in mind, Fireproven certainly don’t lack the enthusiasm; even at their worst, there’s nothing here that’s genuinely bad, and fans of the sound will find something to like. I definitely did, but while some of their tracks grab me and don’t loosen their grip, several others can be skipped without hurting the conscience.

The highest praise I can give to Fireproven is that they have serious ambition (perhaps more-so than many of their peers), reflected by the array of different instruments at hand and the experimentation that comes with them. Although this can result in a “throw it at a wall and see what sticks” mentality at times, the mere mentality of this should come expected as part of the progressive genre, especially from a newcomer. Furthermore, while the band unfortunately falls into the pitfall of using their experimentation to cover-up their weaker elements, I do very much believe that this band will continue to evolve and develop, and in time we could have something very special on our hands. The grandiosity of Future Diary in particular makes me interested to see what the band could do with a conceptual effort; a lyrical story could add a new dimension of structure to their musicianship, with their array of instruments being used to display a more literal expression of environments and emotions. It’s a common note for reviews to end on, but I feel it applicable: Fireproven have huge potential. I mean this, and I look forward to what they plan on putting out next. But, for the time being, their current material will be sure to satisfy prog-metalheads who stumble across them, and certain cuts will most definitely stay in my rotation, despite inconsistencies.

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