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Dark metal reinvented - 93%

Belisario533, December 1st, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

It hasn’t been until halfway through the year that quality metal releases have begun to appear in great number, exceeding the most optimistic expectations. Among them, perhaps the most prominent and surprising is the debut by the American act Mefitis. They are not to be confused with the supposedly Chinese band of the same name, who have garnered some attention more so for their geographical location than for their alleged musical merit. The Mefitis that interests us instead is based in California, another environment no less atypical for underground metal of interest. This entity has existed for more than a decade, yet their career has had ups and downs that have delayed the publication of full-length material until very recently. Although in the past they featured a larger line-up, currently the band operates as a duo, whose members share the duties of guitars and bass, solely dividing up the roles of vocals and drums. They also assume the task of recording and mixing, thus controlling almost all phases of production. Despite being a somewhat trite praise, it is no exaggeration to assert that their sound is completely different from any other band, exhibiting a style of their own so systematic and characteristic, applied to compositions so polished and realized, that it seems almost unbelievable to hear something with such a level of perfection.

Pendath and Vatha, the band members, define their music as "dark metal", which is probably the best possible description, given its original and unclassifiable mix of extreme metal genres. Traditionally that label has been assigned to bands that follow the path of Bethlehem and their heirs, combining death and black metal, and adding a languid and introspective touch that could be designated as “gothic”, in the post-punk sense of the word. Mefitis combines the aforementioned paradigm with melodic influences from European death metal, and black metal's capacity to build sonic landscapes by overlapping many interwoven layers. The fact that they do not stick to one particular influence or sub-genre gives them a lot of breadth and flexibility, which they use to create their own language and explore all the possibilities it has offer. In it we hear echoes of the affinity for melody and atmosphere in a slower and denser format, particular of the Finnish school led by Demigod and Adramelech, but also of the fluidity and organizational capacity of early At the Gates, along with the passion of Norwegian black metal classics, with incredibly emotional outbursts of melody in an environment of stark dynamism.

Throughout the songs on Emberdawn, it appears as if there are many things developing at the same time, which might elude the listener upon first play-through. This is strengthened by the fact that musical motives are rarely reiterated, barring the title track, which is the longest and most homogeneous, and actually the only one offering enough space for repetition. There are so many ideas put into practice, that in the hands of a less skilled and clairvoyant band, this album would have ended up being a confusing and indistinguishable hodgepodge. Mefitis seems fearful of repetition, and for that reason they create music where everything is designed and carefully measured, turning variation and constant change into an almost religious doctrine. Each riff has its counterpoint, simultaneously or delayed in time, which ties each of them into a larger, unified work. Different elements are also implemented with exquisite containment and strategic vision, such as acoustic guitars, keyboards, strange screams that resemble the sagarit of Arab women, and most notably, the fascinating choir, which repeats the same vowel in different tones. These accessories provide the songs with a colorful palette, and generate a sense of towering premonition. Everything is so well armed and integrated that one cannot find weak points in this impressive sonic monument.

The album is structured in two distinct sides: the first half containing four songs with a similar duration at slightly over five minutes each, and the second half introducing five more songs (two of which are interludes) that contextualize the central statement, Emberdawn. All the tracks go through numerous moods, in which we find melancholy, despair and withered beauty, reflections of a world in inexorable decay and self-destruction like the one that appears on the cover art painted by Turkka Rantanen. The choice to commission Turkka further aligns this album with the traditions of Finnish death metal. Between different phases, unexpected jumps occur, surprising the listener with boldness and skill, and ensuring sustained attention. However, the best asset of this band is undoubtedly their stylistic coherence, carefully crafting a compact set of techniques into a unified vision that guarantees variety and interest. In that sense, Mefitis emulates the classics, with their unique fusion of vision and form to achieve transcendence through singularity. Emberdawn is a record so polished, refined and well-rounded, that it can be heard dozens of times without running dry. Accordingly, it is not rash to conclude that we are beholding one of the best metal records of any genre of the last decade.

Originally published in Spanish at www.elnegrometal.es

The red in the sky is (almost) theirs - 88%

robotiq, October 4th, 2019

The period between 1992 and 1995 is vital in extreme metal history. Until this point you could argue that things progressed by getting heavier, nastier and/or more brutal. After this point, progression becomes more about experimentation through melody, composition and atmosphere. Look beyond arbitrary sub-genre classifications of the time (death metal, black metal) and consider the similarities between certain records; “The Red in the Sky is Ours” (1992), “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium” (1992), “Nespithe” (1993), “The Nocturnal Silence” (1993), “Vikingligr Veldi” (1994), “In the Nightside Eclipse” (1994), “Storm of the Light's Bane” (1995). Few of these records are as 'heavy' as genre-defining albums from 1990-91. Nonetheless this is a darker form of music, more twisted and ambitious, classical influences are more obvious and lyrics are more esoteric and philosophical. All these records are extreme and (most) enhance their extremity through strings or keyboards. This stuff is far removed from the watered down melodic death metal or keyboard-laden black metal that followed.

If making extreme metal relevant in 1992 required rethinking extremity, then making it relevant in 2019 requires a miracle. Mefitis have dared to dream by harking back to that era with "Emberdawn". The style is an evolved blend of melodic death/black metal, heavily influenced by the first At the Gates album, but embracing the progressive elements of the debut Enslaved and Emperor albums. Unlike the old days, Mefitis know they cannot merely fall into some cool local scene and tape trade their way to relevancy, all the big ideas have been done, every sub-genre has been pushed and stretched into oblivion. The only option available is to explore the uninhabited crevices of their chosen field and use whatever creative space remains, then execute it perfectly.

Mefitis succeed through persistence and talent. Death metal influences predominate (complex songs, lots of riffs), but pure black metal is never far away (such as the first half of "Obliterating 'I'"). Ultimately, every ethereal moment of black metal riffing is pounded to the ground by a death metal bludgeon. The instrumental "Kolossos Pt. II" is the starting point for grasping the essence of the album. It starts with some open black metal chords over some double kick drums, before disappearing into a tunnel of melodic tremolo riffs. The song-structure is dizzying, there are countless riffs, most of them lasting a few seconds before flowing into the next. The sound is familiar but never generic, At the Gates could have easily gone in this direction in a parallel universe (and if you’re not singing "Kingdom...Fucking...Gone" over the riff at 2:18 then you need to have words with yourself).

"Heretical Heir" is one of my favourites here, perhaps the prime example of how Mefitis keep the listener guessing. The opening riff speeds up slightly (so subtle it is deceiving), before blasting into full-on melodic black metal. A maze of riffs fly past, then at 2:53 there is a riff that sets you up to expect some lame Gothenburg-style melody, but the melody lasts seconds before being wrenched into a savage Demilich turn. Most audacious of all, the lurch at 5:00 is one of the most memorable bits of the album and Mefitis chose to fade the song out with it. Mefitis are relentless in presenting you with ideas, then evolving them into something else before you can absorb them. I never get bored listening to this. None of the twists and turns are ever jarring because the playing and composition are so good. You can listen to this over and over and try to piece together what you're hearing, but it never detracts from the bigger picture.

The musicianship is exemplary throughout. The guitar playing is fluid and thoughtful but never showy. The drumming is awesome, my main comparison would be Adrian Erlandsson. You get a similar range of playing, the same snappy fills and punishing (never overpowering) double kick, a bit of tasteful blasting when the need arises. The fact that the drumming, guitar and composing are all handled by two people is probably why it sounds so tight. I guess it's easier to design riffs and drum patterns for yourself and a close collaborator (assuming you’re talented enough to play the instruments to this standard). The bass sound is surprisingly aggressive which is another unexpected bonus, you can hear a twang at certain points and it is always welcome. I like the choral vocals and Burzum-esque keyboard 'plonks' which surface at strategic points throughout. The production is flawless and avoids all the problems of the digital age.

Minor niggles? The final instrumental "Skoria" doesn't add much, why not leave it off and keep the album under 40 minutes? I've pressure-tested this album by playing it back-to-back with many of the classics mentioned above. It holds up well, but perhaps doesn't quite have the ‘motive’ as those records. This is a consequence of times rather than a criticism, those bands were challenging the extreme metal universe, Mefitis are merely challenging themselves.

Blistering blackened death metal, worthy of anyone's time - 100%

Mailman__, September 17th, 2019

Blackened death metal is known for its menacing compositions and sinister riffs. Enter Mefitis, the band that blends death metal and black metal to make it seem natural. Dubbing themselves as “dark metal”, the band released their debut full-length, “Emberdawn”, on Aug. 13, 2019.

Starting with the 2018 single “Widdrim Hymn”, it is very clear that this duo is very capable when it comes to songwriting. With a thematic riff that journeys through multiple phases within the first minute, the song boasts incredible flow and ridiculously good progression. Each second of the song within the first minute is providing the listener with something new to bite off.

This music is devastating. It reaches into your mind, wraps around it and explodes with pure fury and cerebral beauty. With the dark, blackened riffing comes Dissection-like melody and even peaceful, atmospheric passages. The title track is most notable for atmosphere, being seven minutes of chaotic, bitter riffing balanced out by peaceful atmosphere all while maintaining flow.

Progressive elements are seen throughout the album as well. “Obliterating ‘I’”, my personal favorite, features the first glimpse at what this band can do in the field of progressive metal, showing off very heavy riffs reminiscent of Cynic. More progressive themes are seen when riffs and other motifs are repeated throughout multiple tracks. The more atmospheric sections, when listening with a careful ear, portray this the most, giving the album a Pink Floyd vibe.

I was actually contacted by Pendath, one of the two members of the band. He told me about how all of the choral passages on the album are not from a keyboard but are instead Vatha and Pendath’s voices layered over one another. The choral sections are most exhibited on the first part of “Kolossos”. This aspect alone gives a great deal of respect to not only the album but also the band.

To add to the many layers of this album, the songwriting shines above all. The first track is a perfect example of this, as I mentioned, but even in the simplest riff on this record there is a second guitar part for it. There is not one riff that doesn’t have some sort of “counter riff”. At least, I didn’t find any sections with just one riff. In other words, this album is what I like to call “riff city certified”. There are more riffs on here than most records, and they even repeated a few in multiple tracks.

I cannot emphasize how complex this record is. It is unorthodox in the most orthodox way, staying true to traditional black and death metal but building upon the genres as much as possible. I have heard some very flexible albums this year, and this one goes right alongside them. This is an essential release for anyone who enjoys extreme metal in the slightest.

Originally written for metal-temple.com

A complex sonic tapestry - 97%

we hope you die, August 26th, 2019

Hot off the press, Mefitis’ new LP ‘Emberdawn’ released in August this year boasts an intimidating amount of music to unpack. This is one of those rare albums that can truly claim to have transcended the death/black metal framework into something that doesn’t have a name yet. There are so many ideas within each track that in lesser hands this frantic, restless extreme metal would devolve into a mess. But Mefitis never lose focus, and never place a surplus idea where it’s not required. Like a richly complex tapestry, one can admire each segment for its beauty and technical prowess, and then step back and behold its role in contributing to the final work.

There are a number of different components to pull together, so let’s start with the guitars. The first thing to note is that this is music composed for two guitars. Whilst this is nothing new, there are few albums out there that commit to counterpoint in quite the same way. One has to reach for albums in a league of their own for worthy comparisons; ‘The Red in the Sky is Ours’ and ‘Nespithe’ spring to mind. Whilst ‘Emberdawn’ sounds distinct from these classics, the methodology and intricacy of the music is comparable.

Each and every riff has at least two components played simultaneously. Not only is the sheer volume of their quality mesmerising, but each one breaks apart and restructures the music in novel and unexpected ways. Every trick in the book is utilised (and exemplified), from polyrythm to atonality to dissonance and much more.

Rhythm is a key element to ‘Emberdawn’. This is largely determined by the direction of the riffs, as is the tempo. This allows the drums to take their own journey. They will sometimes link up with the guitars to emphasise their percussive tendencies, sometimes the drums will peal away from the other instruments with unexpected fills and breakdowns. The riffs will announce the end of one passage and the beginning of the next. The drums taken on their own are tight and engaging, but they exist to serve the course set by the guitars, and offer a subtle balance of technical competency whilst granting the music space to breath. A subtle layer of depth that would be hard to achieve with a drummer preoccupied with showcasing their skillset over servicing the compositions.

As frantic as this music is, it slows down at the midpoint with centrepiece Kolossos Pt. I and II. This is an eerie ambient passage that feeds into a perfectly poised instrumental piece. Similar flares are used sparingly throughout the album, cleanly sung chants, acoustic guitars, scant keyboards. These surface level textures are applied at key turning points within the album that signal the next movement.

Many of these musical components are fairly common to extreme metal. So what makes ‘Emberdawn’ so successful where others would fail? The answer lies in the amount of care Mefitis have taken to place these riffs within a larger structure. One can admire each one for its novelty, its precision, the complexity behind its construction. But this is to admire one brick in a vast and intricate structure. And this is ultimately the difference between ‘Emberdawn’ and an album that uses similar techniques but ends up being a random directionless mess. If things continue on their present course, this is a contender for album of the year.

Originally published at Hate Meditations