Swedish Melodic Death Metal trio Furnace, having barely allowed the dust to settle after their last set of releases, return with yet another trio of albums, The Casca Trilogy, this time dropped in one fell swoop as a triple release, as opposed to the staggered release of the previous trilogy, Black Stone Church (2020), Dark Vistas (2020) and Stellarum(2022).
Furnace – The Casca Trilogy (Obelisk Polaris Productions)
Release Date: 23 February 2023
Words: Jools Green
The line-up of Rogga Johansson on guitars and lead vocals, Peter Svensson on bass and backing vocals and Lars Demoké on drums and percussion are also joined by guest artists this time around, as the narrator, the Death Metal vocal legend Dave Ingram of Benediction, who has worked on several other projects with Rogga, and Viking choirs courtesy of Magnus Hultman.
The Casca Trilogy is once again based on their mutual love for horror fantasy concept albums, but a more specific concept than the predecessors, hence the release as a triple album. The story spans three different historical ages, one for each disc and follows Casca Rufio Longinus (of the legend of the Spear of Destiny), a Roman legionary who kills Jesus on the cross and is cursed to live forever as a mercenary.
Throughout the course of the story, Casca’s views and contemplation on mortality shift from viewing his own life and death on the first album to experiencing that everybody around him dies on the second album, and finally, he contemplates the incorporated war mindset of humanity described on the third album.
Furnace – Part I: Legionary
Opening on Legionary and immediately there is that wonderful familiarity of riff and groove that echoes back to the previous trilogy. It’s that slightly dark and gothic, slightly haunting aspect that I loved so much about the predecessors. Another Execution finds Casca reflecting on his peacekeeping role, ebbing and building overall, delivering a groovy but gritty, slightly haunting sound.
If a track is going to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, it’ll be Until We Meet Again. An eerie opener with higher acidic vocals that lean more towards the spoken, a reoccurring element across this whole release and an unnervingly reflective piece with haunting melodies and closing keyboards, with the dying prisoner uttering an ominous warning to Casca, “Until We Meet Again!”
Shadows On A Moonless Night is a dark, haunting, up-tempo track with plenty of grit and melody, finding Casca unnerved and distracted by the prisoners’ final words, heading back to the barracks after a trip to the nearest tavern to help maintain his sanity he’s set upon by shadowy figures and repeatedly stabbed as they curse him by name to Gehenna.
On Brink Of Mortality, Casca finds himself healing and alive. There are some great twists and ebbs to this predominantly up-tempo number. On the equally up-tempo but haunting Cursed With Life, he finds himself shunned by everyone as he laments about his scars healing, but the pain remains.
Casca is transferred to a distant outpost to maintain civilisation against the Germanic tribes in The Savage North, an up-tempo piece with a slightly dark, brutal edge and a great track that packs a punch. On the earnestly up-tempo driver, Where Life And Death Unite, we find Casca once again killed in battle. Then believing he is finally going to die and find peace on The Evermore, which has a very catchy groove, only to reawaken, re-healed on the haunting chugger, Sworn to Wander, with Casca deciding not to return to the Empire but to travel further north where no one knows him to become a soldier of fortune.
Furnace – Part II: Thralls and Blot
A thousand years pass and Casca is employed as a guard by a French monastery, continuing with the melodic up-tempo chugger Where The Sea Meets The Sky, finding Casca pondering his past and future whilst keeping watch, a superb start to the second volume. The pace quickens, heralding the arrival of the Vikings and the ensuing violent combat on Wrath Of The North, a track that boasts some superb dark haunting repeats, graphic lyrics as well as a complex constant directional shift.
Things take a more reflective sombre twist musically with superb protraction on Rogga’s vocals on Death By Decree as the survivors are taken prisoners. I love the powerful lyrical passage, “bound by the oar of a longship, Weak and tired I just comply, Without knowing a word of their language I realise it’s row or die.” They speak volumes.
Thrall also has a dark chug to its construct amidst bursts of signature melody and searing second-half lead work as Casca and the remaining prisoners find themselves “Enslaved – the Chief’s own property”…. “Treated like animals – beaten, sold or killed.” Their suffering continues, with Casca reflecting further on the situation, on the gritty but catchy Beneath The Sky (Our Torment).
The Viking choir that opens Midvinterblot adds a great touch to this dark, hauntingly melodic offering as the long winter builds discord amongst the Vikings towards their captives. The discord spills into the next village as they blame Casca’s captors for stealing their crops and killing their game, and battle between them commences on the up-tempo, sharp driver In Hel Together.
Blood Eagle finds Casca and his captors triumphant. They make a sacrifice to Odin, graphically described in the lyrics. If you don’t know what a blood Eagle is (I didn’t), you will after listening to this track. Casca has proven his worth on the optimistically up-tempo Land Of The Pettr (Pictland – what is now northern and eastern Scotland). No longer a mere Thrall elevated to warrior status, he sails with the tribe to the land of the Pict, where the Isles of Orkneyjar become their new home. The final offering on this disc, Only Time, finds Casca settled in a peaceful existence as a free man with a wife and family but sadly lamenting that he will witness them grow old and die, but he will remain the same, reflected in the up-tempo but darkly melancholic sound.
Furnace – Part III: The Guns of August
The third album finds Casca still on the British Isles, but now he’s a history professor. With the beginning of World War I, he is drafted into the British Army. Opening with Two Thousand Years, with its hauntingly ominous intro, followed by crushing riffs and pounding drum rhythms, a melodic but blistering beast of a track. Casca, still reflecting on man’s violent inclination, utters the lines, “Science will rise, but I know, As religion fades away, The quest for power will stay,” which says it all about humanity.
The haunting melodic chugger Visions Of Glory heralds the distant rumbling of oncoming conflict once again, in the shape of W.W.I, as Casca is drafted into the army as an officer. The melodic but haunting drive continues with Trench Warfare, a hugely engaging and compelling track and P.O.W.s delves further into the brutality and futility of the situation, a harsh punchy beast of a track with a reflectively melancholic melodic undercurrent.
In The Eyes Of A Dreary Winter is an icy lamenting piece about warfare in the freezing cold. The up-tempo, reflectively haunting Armistice sees a brief break in the conflict, a “Solstice – Armistice”, but the carnage returns the next day. A War Of Attrition heralds the arrival of spring, delivering an up-tempo melodic drive with the powerful lines, “Staring into the distance, Don’t know what I’m looking for, Questioning our existence, Is there a life beyond this war?”
Kill Or Capture arrives at a frantic pace as Casca and his men embark on a suicide mission to capture a grove at the order of the high command. A blistering track filled with tension, adrenaline and anguish. Ominous riffs open Alone With Bullets, before the frantic but melodic drive recommences, finding Casca alone as his men are killed by mines and enemy fire. Every day more soldiers arrive for him to kill. Ultimately is this his chance to slip away? Reported MIA?
The final offering on this monstrously superb release, the hypnotic, ruggedly melodic War Is My Destiny, finds Casca reflecting on the futility of it all. The poignantly true opening verse, “I have come to see, The curse of humanity, As long as humans are human, War will be our destiny, The solution is so simple, But some always want more, Until the day we change, We are doomed to war.” Realising that only the end of humanity will set him free and bring him peace, remembering that crucified prisoner’s words, “Until we meet again”, tailing off to a haunting piano close.
Furnace are still my current favourite ‘Rogga project’. The whole of The Casca Trilogy, once again, makes for a superb listen. Engaging riffs, and interesting and well-delivered lyrics, this is an absolute triumph, especially considering the comparatively small window for its creation and completion. I absolutely love it!!
It will be available as a digital download or as a three-CD fat box jewel case from https://furnacesweden.bandcamp.com.