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Midgard is a four piece melodic death metal band formed in the year 2000, but recently reactivated, releasing their newest full length album, “Satellite”.
I use the genre melodic death metal loosely, as they seem to have managed to create something entirely different from anything I’ve ever heard before, and it’s very difficult to put a specific genre to them. The new album features the raw recording quality of early Carcass albums, meets the melodies and harmonized vocals of In Flames. The guitar work jumps from crunching rhythm to soaring, intricate pieces, while the drums remain galloping solidly behind. Alex Shalenko, the vocalist, has impressive high-pitched black metal-esque screams but transitions into stunning clean singing as smooth as a knife through butter. The album as a whole has a quite memorable sound; however it’s unfortunately drowned in muddy recording quality. Unclear recording works fantastically for the world of death metal and grind, but throw in the melodic aspects and it can get lost rather quickly. That being said, “Satellite” is one hell of a comeback album and should be taken seriously as re-entrance into the metal world.
“Empire” starts the album off with a bang, with Shalenko’s lower guttural vocal style stealing the show, trailing into your first impression of his cleans. His vocals are layered, harmonizing each other, and the higher pitched vocals closely resemble those found in power metal. Like a well-trained vocalist, his vibrato is prominent and strong, but seems to get lost with the muddiness of his lower layer. The string work is killer, though I’d like to hear more of the bass, the riffs are catchy. The drums resemble the galloping style typically found in power metal, mixed with a good solid death metal base. It’s a killer beginning to a great release, and really shows you what the band is all about.
Then the band presents us with tracks like “Winter Assault” that begins with an audio clip of warfare, leading into a riff straight out of the world of Stratovarius, but twists back into one of the heaviest tracks on the album. The bass lines are easily recognizable and the drums are driving solidly along. The song moves along with a great groove and is easily one of the best on the record. “Absolute Zero Heart” is truly striking. It’s a slower song while still maintaining a heavy drive. The lyrics to this song really get to me, “Absolute zero heart grows colder again, to recognize the fear, forget about the pain. Absolute zero heart dissolving in vain, these words of hate and love are footsteps, footsteps in the rain.” The album ends on a high note, with the song “If” that is eight minutes of fantastic melodeath.
Altogether, this is a solid release deserving of some serious attention in the heavy metal world. The only complaint about the record I can come up with is the recording quality, but luckily I get to see them live and enjoy the true sound that didn’t quite make it to the recording. For fans of death metal and melodic metal alike, check out Midgard. You won’t be disappointed!
[Originally written for Metalholic.com]
Immediately upon hearing the opening track, Empire, you know you're in for something a bit different from the typical melodic death metal. There is a heavy Iron Maiden vibe in the overall approach to the guitar leads and the bass has an encompassing presence in the mix. It's not as punchy as Steve Harris, but the stylization is there and it's always a treat to hear a band who recognizes the importance of the bassist. The vocals range from a disgusting, throaty gurgle, to brutal guttural grunts, and even some sublime clean sections. The title track especially hallmarks all the best features of this release. The dual guitar leads soar above the mix and compliment the rest of the more traditionally melodeath material with deep growls very well. In a few songs there are keys/piano thrown in-between riffs, but it's used as an accent to the rest of the music and isn't otherwise present.
One of the main aspects of any melodeath band which must be called into question is those leads in every song which are either memorable and awesome, or dreadfully rehashed and stock (how many In Flames cover bands are there out there?). Thankfully, Midgard put just enough of their own spin on things to sound fresh. This can be attributed to the already mentioned penchant for Maiden worship, but also has a lot of noteworthy influence from darker power metal bands like Iced Earth. As The Phoenix Falls, for instance, has clean tone moments reminiscent of something you might hear on The Dark Saga. These elements bring a different dimension to Midgard than most other melodeath bands I have heard, nearly separating them from the genre entirely. Similar to Kalmah or early Wintersun, they push the boundaries of their chosen genre to a point where it's difficult for the listener to place them among their supposed peers.
The overall composition of the album is quite nice. Absolute Zero Heart, a slower song, is placed right in the middle to break up the momentum of the two halves, with Oracle following up on a trudging instrumental gallop riff trip. This is the closest the album ever gets to groove and might appeal to a different audience than the rest of the songs. This is beautifully off-set by Waves Of Acheron, which opens with another highly Maiden-inspired set piece. In general, the second half of the album is more driven by concept than the first half. More of the material is mid-tempo, with more emphasis on clean guitar passages and movements within the songs to accentuate the vocal material. This is most evident in the final, 8+ minute, track, If. I'm a sucker for concepts and this song delivers well on that general formula, though I felt it could have driven the album home a little better in its last few minutes.
The production on the album is mediocre. Rhythm guitars are mostly above the mix, but the leads are quieter and somewhere beneath the drums. The same applies to the clean vocals on the album at times, which can be difficult to hear on some songs (Satellite) and loud and in front of the mix on others (Until The Sirens Call). The harsh vocals in general are well executed and sound well placed in the mix. The bass is audible, as noted early in the review, but lacks enough punch to be more than an ever-present humming for the majority of the songs. The drums have a nice natural sound, but like the bass guitar, the kick is a bit muffled due to this approach. Since the kick drum is more present in the mix than the rest of the drums, this can become a bit distracting for those more used to modern recording techniques which replace/accent the kick with samples. This isn't necessarily a bad choice, though it does make the overall sound seem that much more home-brewed... which leads me to the only actual bad thing I have to say about this release.
I'm unfamiliar with the recording environment Midgard were working with while constructing Satellite, but there are some glaring tempo issues in many of the tracks which would hopefully be attributed to a lack of click track for the drummer, because otherwise he plays some great stuff and is quite varied in his style. Tempo hiccups are very audible to even the untrained ear, so this is something Midgard definitely would need to rectify on future releases.
Considering the production of the album, weighed against the otherwise very well written music, I recommend this album to fans of NWOBHM and melodeath, but with caution. If you're forgiving, this might end up being a highly enjoyable listen for you (as it was for me). With only slight improvement to production in the future, Midgard could easily be pushed into a more prominent position in the underground. As of now though, we have Satellite, which is good enough to hold me over for more later. Very nice music!