Behind the Shadows Lie Madness
1/2/2008 - Review by: Etiam
A few years ago, Candlelight Records entered a phase of renewal. Like its phoenix logo, the label reinvented itself as a modern, tech-savvy, and significantly more diverse company with a roster of bands ranging from new-age deathcore to trad-metal to aged cult icons. Somewhere along the way, they also picked up a little-known UK band that had been grinding out an existence on small underground labels since the 90's. This group was Mithras. Thankfully not lost in the shuffle of new artists, Mithras would see their first two LP's soon reissued, but a new album would not surface until this year. Entitled 'Behind The Shadows Lie Madness', it introduces to the metal world at large the Leon Macey and Rayner Coss duo, one of the most original and esoteric in extreme metal.
As with all Mithras albums, 'Behind the Shadows...' is built from the bottom up, beginning with its rhythm section. Macey, who handles both guitars and drums, approaches each instrument with similarly-brutish riffing with technical and harmonic flourishes framed by constant drum blasts and fills that lurch like a tank shifting gears at 50 mph. Also as usual, Macey's guitar sounds straight from the shower stall (i.e. extremely tinny), which results in some highly unusual song textures, particularly during the solos. Perhaps this sound is one of Mithras's defining characteristics, but it does make the band more difficult to appreciate-a hard enough feat for some already-and all but obscures Coss's bass in the mix. Not to be overshadowed, though, Coss does make his presence felt with brusque, nearly shouted vocals that tell of strange spiritual quests and alien realms. His delivery relies on a single pitch and direct, often iambic rhythms, but it suits the music. The only variation is a clean vocal line used in the verse of 'To Fall from the Heavens', mimicking the opening riff, and is actually quite successful.
The final and most recognizable element of Mithras's sound is the wandering, reverb-saturated soloing. Beginning and ending on unexpected beats and pitches, the majority of the solos carry on with apparent abandon, seeming to lack any rhythm or form. Repeated listens, however, show this not to be the case. Freewheeling though they are, Macey's solos can all be related back to the frenetic foundation from which they stem and as they progress seem to elevate the entire composition, rather than leaving the rest behind. Also scattered throughout the album are the obligatory synthesized interludes, as lush and polyphonic as ever, though perhaps more prudently executed this time around. Easy enough to skip after the first listen, they do help develop the ethereal atmosphere generated by the solos from the rest of the album.
While the above description does indeed include some experimental techniques, Mithras have been using them extensively (except the clean vocals) throughout the majority of their existence. As such, 'Behind the Shadows...' doesn't introduce much in the way of instrumentation or song structures. Far from idle, though, Coss and Macey have worked at perfecting the elements they do use and honing their chemistry as a two-man group. Past albums have some songs that feel rushed and fall short of their potential; on 'Behind the Shadows...' most of the wrinkles in Mithras's approach have been ironed out.
As a result, 'Behind the Shadows Lie Madness' features some of the band's smartest and sturdiest compositions to date and is ultimately a success on two fronts. The first is with old fans who may have doubted the band's ability to bounce back after four years of dormancy, particularly considering the mixed reviews of 'World Beyond the Veil'. On the other front, they prove to a new audience that Akercocke isn't the UK's only mind-bending death metal export. In fact, Mithras might even be better.
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