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Withered > The Midnight Gate > Reviews
Withered - The Midnight Gate

Cramming too much in leaves album sounding generic - 60%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, September 20th, 2013

Interesting mainly for being the one and only recording by Icelandic black metal band Withered when the musicians were still in their teens, "The Midnight Gate" is an aggressive affair in the Emperor style of symphonic black metal. Listeners might expect that the album will be huge on energy, passion and enthusiasm, above-average on speed of delivery and technical finesse, about average in songwriting ability, and short on control and subtlety; they wouldn't be far wrong. There is plenty of power and eagerness throughout the album, and the boys' ability to play and co-ordinate their movements at near-Mach 1 speeds is impressive, but there's a lot they still have to learn about writing distinct songs with recognisable melodies and riffs. Of course I'm assuming that's what they wanted to do as opposed to writing albums as if they were soundtracks for films or stage works.

"The Midnight Gate" runs at just under 35 minutes so it's possible for listeners to hear it in one go as one over-arching work of seven movements. The lyrics appear highly personal and revolve around darkness, being alone and the experience of despair and melancholy without being depressive. Once out of the starting gates with soft and brief acoustic guitar melody, the music runs away and keeps on running, barely stopping for breath. The band's style combines a hard-hitting mix of some black metal elements such as tremolo guitars, rasping vocals and a touch of synthesiser ambience here and there on the one hand, some thrash and more melodically inclined hard rock / metal. The guitar sound is rough enough for a slightly raw edge. The production is clean and gives the band's sound a metallic sharpness.

It's understandable that Withered want to show what they're made of on their debut album and perhaps they err in trying to cram too much into 34 minutes and a bit. In their eagerness to impress, they end up as very much a generic BM band straddling the mainstream and the alternative mainstream when perhaps they should strive for something more individual that draws on their Icelandic musical heritage. Had the band continued to the present, there's reason to suppose that Withered would have eventually realised that that would have been the way forward. We'll never know though since they are no more and that's the pity.

On the virtue of space - 40%

kapitankraut, September 28th, 2008

Withered was a black metal band from Iceland, recording its first and only album when the members were 16 years old. I can count several important reasons to give this album a listen in that sentence, there, particularly since metal from Iceland is rarer than the proverbial hens' teeth.

Unfortunately, despite the promise of a black metal band singing in Icelandic, Withered's "The Midnight Gate" is a remarkably uninspired listen, and I'm not particularly bothered that they don't have much more of a recorded output.

The album suffers from an all-too-common problem in black metal, namely the fact that the band seems to believe that there's one speed at which to play (hyperspeed) and one thing to do with all that empty space on a track (fill it with sound). While there's a time and a place for both attitudes, the entirety of an album is not it.

"The Midnight Gate" begins with an acoustic folk-inspired section, but that's largely the only time that the band isn't trying to break the landspeed record. The rest of the time, there are high speed riffs and incredibly fast blast beats going on everywhere. Points for technique, I'm sure, but it ruins the album as a listening experience. Consider the legends of black metal, and realise that all of them have at least some concept of when to slow down and when to speed up. The much vaunted atmosphere that black metal creates can be created a lot more effectively by a band with a sense of musical dynamics, rather than a band simply racing along.

The issue of filling every available second with sound is an allied problem, and one which often causes me to dislike the modern "symphonic black metal" sound. Again, it comes back to atmosphere. It's impossible to fix on a particularly spine-tingling riff or evil-sounding vocal line if everything's constantly being buried under a great big wall of sound. In a sense, this demonstrates how far black metal has come, in that the early pioneers had a lot of their talent buried by the lack of a great big wall of sound, but this feels like an over-correction to me. Every so often, a riff appears which sounds quite interesting, but it's hard to latch onto even that with so much else going on.

Some of the tracks here are even sung in Icelandic, which should be a very interesting listening experience as the language is tailor-made for that nordic/pagan sensibility that many similar bands have. Unfortunately, as the vocals are generally buried by everything else, the vocalist could be singing in Swahili or Mongolian for all the good it does him.

Indeed, the vocals are also a weakness on this album, with everything being screamed in a raspy monotone. Yes, it's true that when the album never lets up on the pace there's no particular need to vary the vocal delivery, but it further underlines the shortcomings of the work.

Overall, a very disappointing listen. A confirmed fan of the "everything but the kitchen sink" style of black metal production may find more of worth here than I can. As it stands, I can't even point to the isolated interesting parts as an indication of better days to come, as the band is no more.