Monday, October 6, 2008

Miseration - Your Demons, Their Angels (2007)

Death metal is an interesting animal. From the very first bands that began to cross over from thrash into heavier territories to something heavier, to the melodic death metal bands littered about the metal landscape today that some deride as "weak" or "wimpy", one thing is certain: metal fans have strong feelings about death metal. I myself have strong feelings about death metal, having been introduced to the style in the early 90's via latter-day Vengeance Rising, Mortification's seminal "Scrolls of the Megilloth" album, and through the secular realm by bands like Bolt Thrower and Carcass. Feeling as though I'm well educated enough about the style to present an informed opinion of the various subsets, I can safely say that my favorite death metal is the kind where all elements are present: speed, power, crushing heaviness, melody, and vocals which sound like the vocalist's throat is about to fall out on the floor.

Being that everything I enjoy about death metal is present on Miseration's debut, "Your Demons, Their Angels", it's natural that I would enjoy it. More than that - this is arguably my favorite album of 2007. It has the crushing heaviness I have come to expect, nay demand from death metal. It has melodic elements that enhance the music without overpowering it, and it has varied vocals that aren't so throat-ripping that you can't make out what they are saying, but harsh enough to let you know you are indeed listening to death metal. The drumming is ultra-powerful, the riffing is heavy, driving, and accomplished, and the solos (where present) add to the songs just enough without becoming the focal point. The tempos also vary here, providing some slower & mid-tempo material, without forgetting to ramp up the speed for sections that sound like a freight train is heading down your street.

"Thrones" starts of the album in fine form, with pounding drums and biting rhythm. An interesting rhythmic pattern starts off the intro and has some timely double-bass drumming. Vocally, the verse opens with Christian Älvestam sounding quite menacing, bringing a vocal that is somewhere in between the Jeff Walker-esque rasp of
Carcass and the guttural low-end growl of one Karl Willets (Bolt Thrower). He also incorporates a higher-pitched vocal that is harder to pin down, as well as low-end growls and a more spoken word growl that sounds really cool. There is a bit of vocal layering going on as well with a more hardcorish vocal toward the end that gives the song even more variety. The bass guitar isn't so much audible as an underlying roar, which gives the music an even more bottom-heavy sound to it. There's some atmospheric effects work going on in the background between the 2nd chorus and the bridge. Things slow down a bit for the bridge, with some nice cymbal work and the aforementioned spoken word vocals and a bit of extra guitar work. The solo here is great, utilitizing a nice guitar tone, and an awesome layered/harmonized part at the middle. The song transitions at the end with an atmospheric effect right into "Perfection Destroyed". The song has a killer intro with great guitar sound & speed, as well as a nice lick over the top. The chorus has melodic vocals with layering, showing off Christian's abilities as a vocalist, and Jani's affectation for melodic choruses. The death vocals here range from the mid-range growl to a lower-end growl, and the occasional embellishment here and there. The rhythm in the pre-chorus is excellent, and the chorus riff with it's circular guitar riff and speedy undercurrent just rips through with power. The song throws listeners for a loup at around 2:48 with a (very) short acoustic ditty, then back into the heavy guitars and double-bass pounding. The intro riff comes back in about 3:37 to signal the transition into the final chorus, which then fades out with a cool pitch-shift effect. "Seven Are the Sins" pulls no punches, immediately pummeling the listener from the start. The keyboard backing in the chorus is a nice effect, adding a bit of atmosphere to the relentless onslaught of death metal. Vocally, Christian makes more use of high, mid-range, and higher death growls, mixing things up nicely. There's a cool section half-way through that has an echoed cleaner guitar and a whispery death vocal with some effects on it, and more spare drumming. That doesn't last long, however, before a rhythm section that recalls "Perfection Destroyed" somewhat comes in before transitioning back to the chorus section. "World Lethality" starts off much different than the rest of the album - a clean guitar intro & some spare, layered lead playing that is quite reminiscent of early Testament. After about a minute of this, things pick up a bit with a hushed vocal and distorted riffing, along with a slow, persistent drum rhythm. The cool spoken word vocal reappears here, sounding very much like Lord Byron of Bal Sagoth. All at once, the fast tempo picks up and Christian's layered, clean vocals come in & are offset by his death vocals, creating a nice interplay. There's varied guitar work in this song that makes it melodic, yet it retains speed & heaviness where necessary. Drum work here is great too, providing the power when appropriate, and having more dynamics when the song calls for it.

"The End Designed" starts off heavy right away, with some traditional death metal riffing and a nice layer of keyboards underneath, but remains melodic. When the verse kicks in, so does the speed, and the occasional keyboard flourishes add to the atmosphere. Jani proves his salt as a drummer here, with nice rolls, tight rhythms, and good dynamic cymbal work. "Chain-Work Soul" is very possibly the most melodic song on the album, starting with a nice mid-paced melodic riff & layered guitar. The riff is less heavy than some of the others, but that's mostly due to the notes being higher on the scale & less overall crunch. Once again, Christian shows what a good singer he is in the chorus, with a nice harmonized vocal that shows a bit of range. He also utilizes an array of death growls as well, mixing things up a bit during the verses. There's an ultra-low growl during the bridge that sounds like a lot of early brutal death vocals, which is a nice touch. There's a bit of buried solo work that serves the song well, but sounds great underneath the mix. The clean guitar & atmospherics at the end of the song hardly prepare you for the assault of "Noctivigant", one of the heavier tracks on the CD (though with a CD as heavy as this, that's not saying too much!). There's a sort of distorted vocal that sounds like it came straight from an industrial CD thrown in there, which is a neat effect against the wall of sound, along with some other vocal variation that keeps things interesting throughout. Drum rhythms here are nice, and a couple little keyboard flourishes thrown in for good measure add a bit of atmosphere to the song. This track moves along at a pretty good clip, with very little breathing room or nary a respite moment. "Foul Invective" starts off with a complex, melodic riff and transitions into a faster, thrashier riff for the verse. After the first chorus, there's a moment where the music stops on a dime for a split second, then back into the fray, a cool device metal bands often use for effect. Ther'es also a moment during the bridge where an effect is used that would be at home on a blues record, or an early roots-rock record, but fits in here well, despite not being heavily used by metal bands. The solo here is great; a good combination of skill & talent, but also melody & serving the song. At just over 30 seconds left, you think the song has ended, but it comes roaring back to finish out with one last chorus. The final track, "Scattering the Few" blazes into action with a fast double-bass rhythm and fast riffing, and a nice groove-laden riff during the verse. Christian really shows his vocal range here, with a layered clean vocal that shows him well into tenor territory. There's a cool vocal effect in the chorus that's hard to explain, but it sounds like a fade-in, but more dramatic. The short solo is a nice addition to the song, helping to transition into the heavier bridge section with it's pummeling riff & drum rhythm. Then the song slows down a bit for a slightly melodic passage with some riffing and some picked rhythm. A bit of guitar harmonic transitions into another solo, which helps draw the song toward it's closing moments.

The production here is pristine, making this one of the most well-produced death metal albums I've heard this side of Carcass' "Heartwork". All the instruments are heard (except, in part, the bass guitar, though that's typical of extreme metal productions), and everything is balanced nicely, with dynamics throughout where applicable. There are a couple spots where the spoken word or quiter vocals are buried a tad in the mix, but I suspect that was on purpose, for effect. This CD has nearly everything I want from a death metal release, just not quite enough of it. The 2 minor knocks against this album? It's a tad too short (only 9 tracks?!), and the artwork of Par Johansson, while fitting, is just a hair on the cheesy side. His work in designing the band's logo, however, is exceptional. These are only minor complaints, however. This is a landmark release.

Lyrically, one might wonder what to think, given that
Christian Älvestam is not a professed born-again Christian. However, Jani wrote the lyrics, and despite any ambiguities in the songs to accomodate Christian's beliefs, they definitely lean in the direction of a Christian world-view. This may not be a "Christian" album in the traditional sense, but "of interest to Christian metal fans" would be how I would classify it. The lyrical themes deal with personal struggles from the perspective of one's faith in God, so they are completely relevant to Christians, and in some ways are actually more bold than a lot of so-called "Christian" bands in today's music landscape. Whatever your belief system, this is a fine death metal album that no one should overlook. Now with the band signing to Life Force Records, this album will FINALLY get it's due & have North American distribution so guys like me don't have to scrape around & pay heavy import prices to find a copy. I have Jason with Nokternal Hemizphear to thank for hooking me up with my copy at a reasonable price - I don't know how he does it! In any case, this is the death metal album of 2007 in my book.


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