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

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.