Release date: 5/27/2022
Reviewed by: John Wesley
A hard lesson I’ve had to learn over the years is music only matters if it’s heard. There are many artists out there especially with the rapid developments in home-recording technology but how many of these artists get any spotlight throughout their creative endeavors? Nowadays, you must have the know-how that goes beyond the ability to write, mix and produce your own music. To get any sort of recognition in our post-Covid world, you must know a little something about dealing with the dominant standard of promotion: the internet. There have been those in the underground who are known more as promoters than artists and I am here today to introduce you to one of the most crucial players in the game. Refiner is a one-man act consisting of one of the most important promotional giants in the underground Christian heavy music scene. He is none other than Christopher Adam hailing from Nanaimo, B.C, Canada (across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver). He runs a reaction/news Youtube channel called For the Rock which has been around for a few years at this point. He is well-loved and respected in the underground Christian music world who has given so much of his time and attention to give smaller artists a chance of a wider fan base. I am very honored to be a part of putting him in the spotlight for a change by presenting my in-depth review of his latest EP Firewalker which was released independently May 27th, 2022.
Clocking in at just under 15 minutes, Firewalker is a short yet well-packed effort that showcases mid-tempo groovy, drop-tuned riffs, intriguing atmospheric pads and synths, crunchy bass and driving drums. I would call this a metalcore project with strong emphasis on “djent” writing styles. Musically, this EP is very “modally ambiguous” meaning there isn’t a strong sense of a key center. This writing style can be advantageous in that there is more responsibility on the listener’s end to determine how the songs are perceived. I found this to be a pretty unique approach in the songwriting of this EP. In layman’s terms, this EP isn’t particularly moody but being how it is such a short release, this is a good thing and keeps the energy and drive the main focus.
Kicking off the EP we have the title track Firewalker. Essentially an intro track, Firewalker sets up the next track seamlessly. Opening with big synths, building drums and a simple yet memorable clean vocal melody, it doesn’t take too long for the song to step up the energy with Christopher’s “blackened hardcore” vocals and a low-tuned breakdown pattern. This goes on for a little bit then we are launched immediately into the next track.
Track 2, The Clock and Veil, continues in the same vein as track 1 but with satisfactory musical development. The main driving guitar riffs on this song are simple yet distinguished. This track has a nice, consistent energy with no chorus figure but a pretty easy to follow ABAB format. The ending of this track might throw the listener a curveball as it simmers down with some dramatic synth leads and drum fills. A lyric that stood out to me: “Convinced of indoctrination / Death is laid to waste / Even lower than six feet under / It’s impossible they claim.” This song paints the beauty of Christ intervening and giving us a second chance. Christopher’s commitment to theological clarity and excellence shines through his lyrical approach utilizing simple imagery and straightforward prose.
Moving on to track 3, we have Blackout. We shift away from the tonality established in the first two tracks to something a little more daunting. I would say this is the “darkest” track on the album but I wouldn’t say it’s ominous or overbearing by any means. The tempo slows down a little and we are introduced to a syncopated style djent riff with “space-themed” pads and synth leads. The lyrics and subject matter of this song accompany this perfectly, liberally using imagery of other-worldly phenomena. This song does have a clear chorus figure and it pounds pretty well with a “straight-8th-note” rhythm chunking away at some big, moody chords. The verses are nice and slow as the riffs crush through. The “pre-chorus” is a little jarring as a foreign drum pattern comes out of nowhere which leaves the listener guessing if the song is changing direction but this only lasts a few moments and we are brought back to the pummeling mid-tempo riffs this song seeks to display. This song illustrates emptiness, like a black hole, when our lives do not belong to the “Creator of the cosmos.” I really like this line: “Sacrificial love / Poured out like super nova / Never-ending / Light eternal / Don’t let / The emptiness / Swallow us whole / Blackout.”
Track 4 is where we get our most progressive track in terms of its song structure and key centers. Undertow starts with a bouncy, ambiguous riff that mischievously prepares the listener for twists and turns the song will take. I cast my vote for Undertow as the best song on the EP. Though the parts of the song are mostly juxtaposed with one another, they somehow string along naturally with no sense of disunity. The first verse pummels away with a “two-step” beat which gives the EP some much appreciated rhythmic diversity. A crushing breakdown soon follows ushering in an unexpected yet well delivered key-change. All of this ebbs and flows into the beginning riff and second verse that mirror what we’ve heard before. Another breakdown happens and then we arrive at the most melodic part of the EP. “There is one who can save / His name is Jesus” is the ending lyric to this song which nicely wraps up the sinking ship imagery painted throughout the song. Like I’ve been saying in my commentary about this EP, I appreciate how the varying ideas in the songs connect, though on their own, they can easily be developed into their own songs. This song does the best at that. I also cannot forget to mention that this song features Ed Casimer of A Secret Ending on guest vocals.
No time is wasted as track 5, Crimson Rain, swings fast and hard right out of the gate. This is a salvation song at its core with Christopher letting it loose with the opening lyric “You will never be whole / On your own strength / Come as you are / A path has been laid / A torch lights the way / Brighter than the light of day.” This track is the most breakdown driven on the EP. Though the shortest song, aside from the intro track, the songwriting is laser-precise and no time is wasted with this punishing anthem of redemption. This song has attitude (haha). The form is by far the easiest to follow as it gently yet firmly spoon-feeds a standard song structure that proves worthy to live in your brain “rent-free.” The breakdowns in this song are my favorite on the EP. Short and sweet, the Firewalker EP comes to a screeching halt leaving the listener wanting another EP-worth of energetic, jumpy and unique modern-metal executions.
The production of this album is also something to take note of. This is a one-man act as stated before but in my inquiry of Christopher about some details of the EP, the instruments are entirely digital meaning everything you hear aside from vocals are programmed. The audio quality is pretty fair. My only real gripe with the production is I feel like the guitars could be beefed up more. The energy of this EP comes from the drums and vocals, not so much the guitars. Vocally, I think Christopher has honed in on his lyric delivery better than he was before with other projects. Nothing seems out of place and wedged unnecessarily. Well done bro! The EP artwork was also done by Christopher, truly making this as close as you can get to being a purely one-man project.
Being the humble, stand-up guy he is, Christopher wishes to express, “A massive thank you to everyone who has taken the time to listen to Refiner. The support has been absolutely amazing!” The new EP Firewalker streams everywhere you can find it. Continue to support underground music, especially these little one-man projects from those who give a lot to the scene. Congrats on the new release!
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Favorite song: Undertow
For fans of For Today, Norma Jean and Those Who Fear