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Middian - Age Eternal Review

by Mark Hensch

Much like the phoenix of yore, Middian is that glorious burst of flames rising from the lifeless ashes of the past. When groundbreaking cosmic/stoner/funeral doom act YOB broke up in 2005, visionary frontman Mike Scheidt decided that his brand of celestially-tinged doom could not and should not be put to rest. In an interesting twist, the charismatic Eugene, Oregon native chose to create an entity wholly separate of YOB, with monikers like AGE, Hadean Dusk, and the like being tossed around. In surprisingly quick fashion, Scheidt drafted local scene vets Will Lindsay (bass) and Scott Headrick (drums) for the newly-christened Middian and resigned with Metal Blade Records. Both Lindsay and Headrick had roots in Eugene's gritty hardcore punk underground, and Middian as a unit now faced the difficult task of building titanic and crushing doom, touring relentlessly, and releasing a debut album in a relatively miniscule window of time.

The band's chemistry solidified first, and following that, Middian embarked on a long-winded stretch of intense and confrontational touring. Having satisfied these requirements, Middian now turned to recording a debut, and the buzz built from there. What would it sound like? Would it do justice to YOB? Would Metal Blade push it to the moon and bring doom into a more trendy consciousness? Only time would tell.

After months of waiting, Age Eternal has finally hit the shelves. The above questions now can be properly answered, and the end results might surprise. For people expecting a clean break from YOB, fear not; Middian carries on the YOB sound with almost shameless similarity. In many ways, this seems unusual as little exists to establish Middian's uniqueness apart from YOB; old YOB fans will most definitely wonder why Scheidt didn't just stick with the name and carry on the YOB banner.

As for whether or not it can stand up to YOB's catalog, the answer is a resounding yes. Age Eternal exists on such a broadly defined plane of universal grandeur YOB fans will feel right at home whereas relative noobs will soon join the cosmic host. In many ways, the disc's opener "Dreamless Eye" calls to mind "Quantum Mystic" off 2005's YOB swansong in The Unreal Never Lived. The cut immediately launches into a sort of hypnotic pummeling, not unlike being entranced by someone punching your nose through your brains during an ill-timed acid trip. As Scheidt unleashes his trademark howl, thundering percussion provides an expansive backdrop for the man's vocal anomalies, a sort of eerie, celestial yowl. In an interesting twist, Lindsay thumps his bass with manic fury all and alternates Scheidt's vocals with rabid hardcore roars. As the song's massive themes of universal rise-and-collapse, ebb-and-flow, growth-and-recession, come to an end, the buzzing guitars oscilate back into a gargantuan riff that sways like a cobra just about to strike. This slowly blossoms into a fiery solar-flare of guitar wanking, and the song showers you with sizzling embers as it plods to an inevitable, fist-pumping end.

It's follow-up in "The Blood of Icons" is even better. Scheidt plays with interstellar spider webs of delicate, dangled, and crystalline notes; just as geometric and discernable patterns emerge, everything is brutally torn down by an utterly star-collapsing funeral doom passage. It is every bit as heavy and vicious as YOB at their most brutal, and shows the band isn't afraid to offer up purist doom which grinds faces and crushes bones. Amidst this ferocity there flirts a sense of wistful melody, not unlike the last kind thought experienced in the wake of the Apocalypse. It makes for some pretty heavy stuff, so mind-boggling in fact you won't even notice the transition to fluid and ethereal waves of sound, soon swallowed by elephantine groove yet again. The guys have really outdone themselves here, this one slays. "The Blood of Icons" is easily the highlight of Age Eternal.

That isn't to say the rest of the disc lags in any conceivable way; in fact, quite the contrary. "Age Eternal" swirls with cloudy melancholy and chilling ambience before exploding like a long-overdue supernova into an atomic explosion of sound. Megatons of dreary riffage collapse on your eardrums again and again; if Sleep is doom on weed, Middian is doom on quaaludes. "Age Eternal" spirals into a mammoth implosion of droning noise, only to return to its intial opening notes and chords. The cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth in one song, "Age Eternal" is timelessness turned into doom and definitely carries on the same theme of circular existence first touched upon by "The Illusion of Motion" off the 2004 YOB disc of the same name.

"The Celebrant" is a punchy, short, and behemoth mid-paced rocker, the sort of metal anthem that would be spawned on the heavy-G world of Jupiter. The riffs are enormous, glacial, and achingly heavy, the sort that inspire headbanging not for the bang but simply because they are so thick a man's head can do nothing but be physically weighed down. With absolutely phenomenal rhythm, the song exists as an excellent cut of its own as well as the perfect transition into the disc's soaring climax.

Said grand finale is none other than the epic "Sink to the Center," a sixteen minute goliath that starts off a sinister, rumbling buzz before flaring up into claustrophobic riffing only to sink back into fantastically deep depths of monumental sound. As these sounds rattle, hum, and throb, an utterly abysmal wailing comes forth, YOB perverted into the blackest night. Things now trudge along in a hazy plod, pythonic crests leading into equally gargantuan troughs. A descent into bubbling madness at the very finite point of matter in the universe soon ensues, the guitar reduced to gurgling madness as all of your senses melt around it. This slow burn into a titanic, shaking madness ends the disc on a very unnerving note, and I'm very interested to see where they'll thematically take things next album.

Having described the disc, where can I go from here? I'd be lying if I said that I wish YOB had made this---it is very tantalizing to hear something so similar, yet meant to be something wholly original and unrelated. Despite this minor gripe, I honestly feel Middian will grow away from the legacy YOB built and create something even more inspiring and fantastic. Age Eternal may not be something entirely new, but throughout its winding passages of vast, universe-smothering doom metal, a sense of unnerving darkness and gnawing rage YOB never tapped quietly whispers in your ear. If YOB was a mystical, trippy dream through the regions of man's mind, Middian will hopefully be the eventual decay and descent into madness. Age Eternal is just the tip of the iceberg folks, chances are doom fans will be pondering these blokes for years to come; an Age Eternal indeed. I will be seriously considering this for 2007's album of the year come Christmas time.

1. Dreamless Eye
2. The Blood of Icons
3. Age Eternal
4. The Celebrant
5. Sink to the Center

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