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There's something in me that'll still give this album the time of day. It captivated me when I first got into metal, particularly this power / speed metal brand of Finnish melodic death. The overuse of keys, the polished intensity, the flare, the easy-on-the-ears, harsh dryness of the screams, and the overall tameness certainly holds the listener's hand throughout the whole listening experience. Yet Mirror Of Madness does this with its dignity higher than before, and with compositions to back it up.
To get it out of the way, these lyrics suck ass. Just corny, poorly written, emotionless lyrics that were written off the pages of a thesaurus or with a few clicks on any thesaurus website. Thankfully, vocalist Petri Lindroos is a non-dynamic screamer, and for the most part these angst lyrics aren't going to be heard that clearly. All the curse words like "fuck" are more decipherable than the rest, though, and it doesn't seem like a coincidence, either. Moments like those give me the douche-chills, like "Betrayed"'s "I'm out of my... mother fucking mind!" Ugh, just awful, and shows how concerned the band was if that was written for everyone to see and no one called that type of shit out.
Lyrics aside, the vocals do what they can to match the breakneck riffs and their precise distortion. The two starters, "Blackhearted" and "Betrayed" are twins in terms of structure and vibe. It's almost like hearing the exact same song twice. The intensity of both puts this album on high at the beginning, and "Of Darkness And Light" is the mid-paced, atmospheric-slanted, harmonic that spice that follows. It's definitely the type of song with a heavily inspired Somewhere In Time-esque bridge / solo section. Once more, moments like these work and glue this album together to be more coherent than any other Norther album.
"Of Darkness And Light" has a partner, "Cry", which, despite the juvenile title and lyrics, is probably Norther's defining moment for me. The attempt at a mid-paced, consistent, thrashing riff and heavier attitude is a couple aspects that make this song solid, but the solo sections are what make this song the shit. Very well-written, pompous, elated, and catchy. It's the same catchiness that made Iron Maiden's leads and solos as majestic and cunning as they came. Planman's keyboard solos are typically goofy and tacky, but this one on "Cry" is elastic. Lindroos and Ranta on the twin leads later in the song, as simple of a task it is to accomplish, is the moment of icy bliss that, to me, is the peak of Norther's coolness.
The tracks that sort of fold together in terms of patchy filler are "Midnight Walker," "Unleash Hell", and "Everything Is An End". They're unimpressive despite the joyous keys, tarnished drum aggression, and inspiring, wintery tone. Even "Everything Is An End", while having a very unorthodox (for Norther standards) bass-prominent section with a cool build-up alongside the guitars, has no more zeal to it than cold weather. To counter these tracks are the final two (or three if the idyllic "Frozen Sky" is involved) songs "Dead" (reminding me of the game Killer Instinct and In Flames' "Bullet Ride") and the title track. Nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to these two, but certainly not on the level of unevenness as the filler songs.
The flow from start to finish is a class better than any other Norther album. It's the exact same formula Norther tried with the debut, Dreams Of Endless War, yet almost each song's strength ("Unleash Hell" is pretty stupid) on its own holds this album together. Mirror Of Madness is a rehashed anomaly that epitomizes all the good things about Norther while still retaining (but downplaying) all the negatives, as well.