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This is the way it has to be. - 80%

Diamhea, March 13th, 2018

I originally wrote this review something like... eleven years ago, and sometimes it can be rewarding to revisit albums you used to hold in high regard to see if they still stand up to wizened scrutiny. Thankfully, Mirror of Madness isn't the embarrassment most of Norther's other material is. In fact, N is so bad that I don't think I could ever bring myself to listen to the entire thing again without cringing into oblivion. This one, however, has a lot more going on (at times). Dreams of Endless War's thrashing melodic temperament is largely transposed here, but with more soothing string backings and less cut-and-dry songwriting. Mirror of Madness' atmosphere is its trump card at many junctures.

And just looking at the opener "Blackhearted," you can see the logical transition, and the contrasting, swirling piano lines courtesy of Planman really stand out. And this isn't the only point where he makes a strong showing, as the instrumental bonus track "Frozen Sky" really pins down the vibe of the record, and should have been included in the tracklisting proper. Elsewhere, expect tons of synthetic choirs, giving the album a very KORG Triton sound that fans of Finnish melodeath should be familiar with. "Betrayed" is just choked with these keyboard pads, and it really helps buoy the otherwise droning, cyclical repetition of Hallio's drumming.

Mirror of Madness suffers from being somewhat frontloaded, with "Of Darkness and Light" coming down the pike right after "Betrayed." This is easily one of Norther's best songs, with far better lyrics than Petri usually pens, and a concurrently depressing/uplifting atmosphere. Elsewhere, the album struggles to match the initial volley, although the luminous leadwork continues to stand out no matter the environs. If there is one quality Norther never lost, it was great soloing. Not necessarily shred-centric, but always welcome in context.

Anyway, I was always partial to "Dead's" more steamrolling conflagration of hypnotizing mid-paced groove and dense licks. "Cry" is struck from a similar mold, but should have been played slightly faster, as it becomes a totally different beast (see live performances), and the crystal clarity granted by the Astia Studios production really makes all of this shine. Death Unlimited sounded too tinny and ragged in comparison, but I can appreciate both albums on their respective merits.

Is Mirror of Madness the supposed classic many claim it to be? Well, no, it isn't, but it comes close and should be respected for not being an overt clone of Children of Bodom - an accusation that honestly never held much water outside of some personal connections the bands shared. Either way, check this one out, if anything for the more subdued keyboards and the leads. An interesting snapshot of the time period that holds up.