When last they were heard from, Richmond, Virginia’s Fire Faithful were giving a sample of their Southern-styled heavy wares on a split with Lord called Refuge for the Recluse, and with their self-released debut full-length, Fire Faithful bring that knack for metallic wordplay (an art unto itself) to a new degree. The album is called Please Accept this Invocation, and with songs like “Disgust is a Must” and the über-clever “Wonton Lavey,” it’s easy to imagine the trio (down from the four-piece they were on the Lord split with the absence of guitarist Dave Marrs, who nonetheless gets a liner notes nod for his contributions to the songwriting) don’t take themselves too seriously, but the atmosphere on the record is morose almost to the point of being dire, and though there are parts of it that are very, very metal – the start-stop double-kick from drummer Joss Sallade on “Dollar Bottomed Out” is more Lamb of God than Alamaba Thunderpussy (to keep the comparisons Virginian) – the album seems more keen on developing a semi-cultish mood than posturing this way or that as either a “Southern” band or a “metal” one. And in that, Please Accept this Invocation is successful. Still, despite the impression finally being more about the overall moodiness and flow between the eight component tracks, there are several individual standouts, among them “A Devil in London,” “Flamingo,” “Wonton Lavey,” and the opening title cut.
The latter of that bunch (but the first on the tracklist – kablooie went my brain), “Please Accept this Invocation” is pivotal to the album not just for sharing its name, but also because it’s an immediate establishment of the central process at work in Fire Faithful’s songwriting – namely, the balance of mood and heaviness. It works in back-and-forth heavy/quiet tradeoffs, keeps a relatively slow pace set by the riffing of Shane Rippey, who handles both guitar and bass on the recording, and is met in its more subdued stretches by cooed verses from vocalist Brandon Malone. Malone might be the single element most responsible for designating Fire Faithful as a Southern metal band, but the production of Vince Burke of Beaten Back to Pure at his Sniper Studio adds to it as well. A rough drum sound is a staple of Burke’s jobs, and that remains true for Sallade here, but the cymbals come through clearly and as the opener transitions smoothly into “Dollar Bottomed Out,” it’s a near-wash that cuts to the second track’s chugging riff and rougher vocal from Malone, directly relatable to either Phil Anselmo (a standby influence) or ATP’s Johnny Throckmorton. In his croon, Malone is harder to place, and that comes out more on “A Devil in London,” which accounts for one of Please Accept this Invocation’s best stylistic blends, bringing together doomed riffs and an open feel bolstered by guest-spot backup singing in the chorus. The song gets heavier in the bridge, but never quite reaches the metallicism of “Dollar Bottomed Out,” despite Rippey’s squiggled guitars and a scream from Malone.
From there, Please Accept this Invocation takes a turn. “Disgust is a Must” seems to wander initially before finally settling on a killer-if-derivative groove for its chorus, but then veers more into a jam that seems to detract from the effectiveness of the rest of the song, whatever diversity it might add to the album as a whole. In that way, it winds up still serving the record while not really serving itself as an individual piece, which, as the longest song here, one might want it to do. “Enter the Monster,” which follows, revives some of the opener’s loud/quiet interplay, and ultimately with a better instrumental build, but Malone injects a spoken word part over what should be the song’s apex and it falls flat, denying the listener the kind of satisfaction that Fire Faithful has already proven they’re capable of providing with “Dollar Bottomed Out.” Nonetheless, the transition between “Enter the Monster” and “Flamingo” is one of Please Accept this Invocation’s best, and not only does “Flamingo” feel less bloated than “Disgust is a Must,” but is more effective structurally as well, setting its moodiness up against steady crashes from Sallade and resulting in a memorable delivery of the title line that, however much sense it makes lyrically, works in terms of the sheer sound of it, setting up a strong progression that leads to the rhythmic insistence and swagger of “Wonton Lavey,” a song that seems to revel in its pun, nudging you as it plays out. It is a highlight cut in front of the closer, but works well coming out of “Flamingo” as well for the heavier shift it represents. Fire Faithful never align themselves completely to traditional doom, but those elements are clear in their riffs, and offset by the Pepper Keenan-style twists on “Wonton Lavey,” it makes for an intriguing outcome that those who regularly dig a Southern metal scope will no doubt grasp onto.
Having thusly regained its momentum from the missteps present in “Disgust is a Must” and “Enter the Monster,” Please Accept this Invocation finishes out with “Alone with a Stranger,” which makes the most of Sallade’s double-bass and the metallic side of Rippey’s guitar work. Faster and more aggressive, it’s a final move away from much of the album’s focus on atmosphere, but it works well on its own, the squigglies returning to lead a semi-blackened march into the fadeout. Fire Faithful still have work to do in terms of developing their style on an individual level (this is their first album, after all), but if there’s any real takeaway from Please Accept this Invocation, it’s that the Lord split did little to convey their overall breadth or ability to convey ambience. Maybe part of that was my being overwhelmed at the other band’s reformation, but no doubt remains that Fire Faithful have it in them to grow into their own sound. Listening back to “Alone with a Stranger,” it would be fascinating to hear the band incorporate more of that intensity into some of the quieter parts – to play up a sense of foreboding that the songs could then work to payoff as they get heavier – but that’s a ways off yet, and Please Accept this Invocation solidly displays the potential for such moves, while also providing a selection of highlight tracks to hook the interests of first-time listeners. It has its moments of genericism, but Fire Faithful work well within their given parameters, and the debut proves a satisfying start.Fire Faithful, Richmond, Unsigned bands, Virginia