Quintessential butt avant-garde-blackened-industrial metal.
Quintessential butt avant-garde-blackened-industrial metal.
Holy mother of fuck, where did these guys come from and why haven’t I heard of them before? Normally if I’m giving an obscure and unknown band a really high score it’s because despite its low production value, it does something incredibly unique and spectacular that I can ignore, or in the best case, embrace the fact that it’s not professionally made. This is not the case of Pleiades. No, despite being an almost completely unknown band (at least here in the states), Mutant crafted not only an album that sounds big budget and well produced, but takes the now stale and dying genre of thrash metal to a whole new level I haven’t seen this century. And yes, that includes Vektor.
Before even attempting to listen to this album, you need to let go of all expectations of what thrash metal is supposed to sound like. Or better yet, don’t and be totally blown away like I was. Because this isn’t a revival album. This isn’t trying to bring back the glory days of thrash. No, this is Two Thousand and fucking Sixteen. It’s time for a new style for a new era.
The vocals? They’re so harsh they border on death metal at times. Which is fitting because the guitars are so downtuned there are times where it legit sounds like tech death. This is aggressive and angry as fuck thrash metal, so much so I have no shame in admitting that I head banged copiously and flailed around my dorm room like a retard on ecstasy. Makes me wonder what kind of image would come up if Google Earth happened to be taking pictures right by my window at that time, just in time to see a skinny guy in an Ahab shirt apparently having either the happiest or angriest seizure ever experienced.
But the kicker? That’s not all this album does. I’d say it’s barely over half actually. What separates his album over all other modern thrash is that it ISN’T just a headbanger, it ISN’T just aggressive, and it ISN’T a copycat album. You want to know what modern thrash sounds like? How about adding dark/tribal ambient sections to your music? I mean what better way to set up the mood for an album about the Mayan Apocalypse than setting the mood with dark, sinister synths, closing and beginning certain tracks as if warning as to what is to come.
You want modern thrash? How about tritones as your main chord. There are multiple sections in this album that show off these old school djenty / othodox black metal like tritone chords that I’ve never heard in a thrash album before. Now, it’s true that lots of old school thrash bands use tritones, but the way these two bands utilize them is entirely different. Thrash bands typically utilize the tritone found in a blues scale. So like they’re E a few times then hold a Bb, before descending back to E with A and G. So the scale would be E, G, A, Bb, Cb, D, E. A pretty common scale it lots of old rock, metal, and well uh, blues of course. However Mutant doesn’t do that. On Road to Xigbalba, the main chord of the track is A, Bb, E. Now, that sounds similar to a blues scale, because you played E to Bb, it would be a blues scale tritone. But not here, because the actual focus of the tritone is A and Bb. The scale ends up being A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G, A. Do you know what that fucking scale is? THAT’S FUCKING A PHRYGIAN. WHO THE FUCK WRITES A THRASH SONG IN A, FUCKING PHRYGIAN? Classical musicians don’t even write music in that mode because it’s so archaic. It’s absolute madman level of crazy… but it fucking works. And it’s not even the only time they use atonal chords.
Oh but I’m sorry, that’s not enough cool shit? How about jazz chords as well. Actually you know what would be really cool in a thrash album? A song that begins as a full on dark ambient track, transitions perfectly into a jazz prog track, and then transition again IN ABSOLUTE PERFECTION into an aggressive, melodic, proggy thrash track with an amazing mix of clean and harsh vocals. You want that? Of course you fucking do, and it’s on this god damn album on Children of the River, which I would say is the best track on the album, but I don’t even think I can decide that without feeling like I’m leaving another track out.
This album is absolutely everything thrash could be that it isn’t right now. It has all that I could want, but never have. In essence, this is the future of trash metal. If only people could actually give this a listen.
This EP has two things that give me a total musical boner pretty much no matter the context. Well done ambient sections, and buddhist temple music influences. You put those two things anywhere in a a metal album and I’ll probably love it. So hearing the first ambient track really made me really really excited for this work. And then I heard the drums. Or rather, the production on the drums. It’s fucking awful. Most of the entire EP you can barely hear them, and considering the guitar is produced actually pretty well, it totally throws your ears off balance. The vocals are similar, but this is atmo black, so I can forgive that. Also the transition between tracks is god awful as well, ranging from abrupt to fade outs that fade way too fast and sound really awkward. And that’s really all that’s keeping this from being a very excellent EP, because other than those two things, this is fantastic. But even though these aren’t major problems, they affect how I listen to this so much that I have to dock quite a bit for it. This’ll probably still go on my chart of great obscure albums from 2015, but I’m going to keep this from the 8 rating because you can’t always sweat the small stuff.
Probably the single best thing about this album is something I always look for when reviewing works and that most bands always fail, and that’s coherently combining different influences together instead of just treating them as separate entities. Now, what Acherontas doesn’t do is literally put their tribal and ritual ambient sections and just put blast beats on them. That would be messy. What they do to make the transition seem seamless and have it not be jarring at all is really subtle, but important. In many of their ambient sections, they will use metal instruments as a part of the ambient section. So for instance, on “Shaman and the Waning Moon” (my favorite track on the album), despite it being a completely ambient track, the drums are used as part of the ambient, but not to make a beat. It’s hard to explain unless you hear it, but think of it like someone just kinda playing around with the sound of the drum rather than specifically playing with them, only it actually sounds good. There are also sections where the guitar is used in a similar fashion. It’s such a subtle thing, but it really makes everything flow together, because you don’t have to fully switch from metal mode to ambient mode because there’s just enough metal in the ambient sections to keep it flowing well.
More on the ambient sections, they do a fantastic job of creating a mystic, occult feeling throughout the entire album. Sounds of amazonian flutes, ominous drums, occasional chanting, I always imagine myself deep in the amazonian jungle, witness the sacrifice of a virgin to appease the gods for one more year. I have never come across a band creating such a feeling like that this year, where you can so vividly imagine a scenario in your mind as you listen. There’s such a primitiveness in it, which really fits in with black metal as a whole, as so much of extreme metal is primal urges. Satanism is all about giving into your instinctual desires after all.
But this is a metal album, not an ambient album, so I do have to mention that too. It is obvious that the metal components of this record aren’t nearly pronounced, and when they are done, they aren’t done in the most incredible manner possible, but they are certainly done well enough to not bog down the record. This is especially prevalent when instead of backing up the actual vocals, they are backing up chanting. It gives a truly epic feel that I don’t think can be generated through traditional black metal. Harmonically there’s not much interesting, though I think if there was any sort of technical or progginess in this album it would be very out of place. This is all about going back to the tribal and basic after all. So on that front, it very much fits with the aesthetic. I think the best musical parts of the album are actually when they just drone chords with the vocals. I really wish this was utilized more, as these moments are mostly brief and afterwards they go right into blast beats. One final thing I want to mention that i find the biggest achievement in Ma-Ion is that they managed to make a 70 minute album not boring in the slightest. I initially saw that length and thought for sure it would be a dud, but I was very much pleasantly surprised with what I got.
So why is this album a 9.75 rather than a 10? When it comes to the difference between ratings this high, it’s typically the small things that keep it from reaching the maximum score. For one, the spoken word section on the 8th track goes on for way too long and really takes you out of the album. At first it’s kinda cool, but then it goes on and since there isn’t anything else to really supplant it, you start wondering when it’s going to be over until finally the next ambient section kicks in. If this had only been about a minute or so nothing would’ve been wrong but as is it lasted way too long for what it brought. Also the first solo on Therionic Transformation was extremely lackluster to say the least. And while true, the second solo was fantastic and dare I say epic, it didn’t fit with the rest of the album. It seemed to brainy for what this work is trying to accomplish, as it was very much laden with heavy metal influence. Don’t get me wrong, I like heavy metal influence in pretty much anything, but not for this album. But really, I think the main reason this doesn’t get a 10 is just gut feeling. When it comes down to it, the difference between a 9.75 and a 10 is just what the album feels like to me, and this doesn’t feel like a 10. It’s not something I can really explain fully, it’s just what I feel like when I listen to things.
It’s really hard to make a closer for this, because I feel like I’ve exhausted just about everything in this album (I haven’t, but I did just about as much as I could with my current ability). It’s ambient sections are god tier, and it’s instrumentals are adequate enough to not be a deterrent. Also this is my first 1000 word review (1100 word in fact)! That’s been a goal of mine for a while now and I seems weird to have finally reached it. I also want to thank everyone for their support, I’m not sure if everyone reads what I write, but I like to think they do, so this is keeping me going in my music writing. Hopefully one day I’ll be writing for a major website or something, but until then, I’ll just ramble on about things to anyone willing to hear, because that’s fun for me.