Mithras - Behind the Shadows Lie Madness Review
by Mark Hensch
Behind the Shadows Lie Madness is one of those rare albums that tries to reach for the stars but has difficulty even leaving the atmosphere. On this, the third full-length release from the English duo, Mithras attempts quite the ambitious offering, the likes of which is only partially realized. Behind the Shadows Lie Madness is a bizarre brutal death metal album, at times Lovecraftian, at others simply cosmic. Aimed at combining mystical tales of interstellar chaos and epic, planar wandering with psychedelic guitar leads ala Morbid Angel and ferocious blastbeats, Madness floats awkwardly between a realm of genius and a void of confusion.
In my mind, the reasons for this are clear. Behind the Shadows Lie Madness is a magnificently vast undertaking for any group of people, let alone two; the disc not only deals with a complex, fictitious science-fiction narrative, but at the same time tries to expand the limits of brutal death metal by giving it a cosmic slant. With so much going on, the disc often hovers between the fun and the frustration of anti-gravity; sometimes it can be immensely entertaining to let go and float through the soundscapes, while at others the lack of anything discernable to hold onto can be grating.
"The Journey and the Forsaken" is crystalline, ethereal beams of light floating through the galaxy, the soft tones that mark the album's introduction quickly lowering the defenses for the onslaught to follow. Said massacre, the aptly titled "To Fall from the Heavens," batters listeners senselessly with repetitive and hypnotic tech-death equations laced with psychedelic leads and soaring, operatic sing-songs. I'd call it pretty cool, but a little variation could have done wonders.
"Under the Three Spheres," meanwhile, bucks this trend entirely, the song being everything awesome about Mithras as a concept. Comet tails of guitar licks flare across cold, icy skies all before a firestorm of brutal riffs rain down on the listener, effectively turning their bodies into chalk. The leads are organic, natural, strange, and confident, sounding like alien weapons of war from galaxies far, far away. "Into Black Holes of Oblivion" is another stand-out cut, its inhuman percussion leading a charge through otherworldly guitar solos and Meshuggah-esque riffing heavier than the matter at the center of a collapsing star.
Such unhindered, brutal sadism is quickly contrasted with the delicate ambient piece "When the Light Fades Away." "Light" aptly sounds like a twinkling star slowly being sucked into oblivion, and transitions into a freakish world of nightmares at its end. "Behind the Shadows" carpet-bombs a whole star-system of planets with its futuristic pummeling and twisting notes....hell, they even manage to sneak a chugging bass line in there! "Awaken Man and Stone" throws a barrage of pinch-harmonics from the speaker system and displays modern death metal riffing in the technical vein.
"The Twisted Tower" has some catchy, spaced-out guitars that will be stuck in your head like orbiting satellites for days. In fact, so gripping and wicked is this track I'd say it is one of the best available on the disc. Amidst all the fun there occurs a brutal breakdown of planetary collapse proportions, the likes of which will turn even staunch death metal fanatics into quivering globs of jelly. "To Where the Sun Never Leaves" drifts in on a swell of aether before rehashing some of the band's earlier leads and then collapsing into a blitzkrieg of death metal fury that is amongst the album's fastest moments. It must be pointed out that by this point in the album a few of the guitar parts start to sound a bit too familiar, but thankfully this is a minor gripe at best and something that is soon avoided. "The Beacon Beckons," meanwhile, is a quiet ambient piece that ebbs-and-flows with quiet, glittering washes of pure, clean sound eventually coalescing into a majestic acoustic section.
From here, the album ends with the strong one-two punch of "Thrown upon the Waves" and "Into the Unknown." "Waves" is the violent destruction of the Milky Way solar system turned to music; "Unknown" is the soft, chilling descent into the aftermath and its eventual silence. Conceptually, both songs work very well, and physically, both are well-crafted death metal numbers that are ambitious and memorable at the same time.
Ambition, however, does not always make for a fantastic album. It is apparent throughout Behind the Shadows Lie Madness that Mithras are trying extremely hard to bring something new to death metal, and this approach doesn't always work perfectly. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it is worth noting that the duo often seems mismatched in their playing---the drums might outstrip the guitars or things might sound messy, sloppy, or overly chaotic. Secondly, as unique as the music is (and trust me, this is some far-out stuff), Mithras tend to repeat riffs and chords over and over again, sometimes to the point of being tiresome. In contrast to these problems stands an innovative and unusual take on the genre however, so things can't be all bad. At the end of the day, Behind the Shadows Lie Madness is definitely stellar but not the center of the brutal death metal universe.
Mithras' Behind the Shadows Lie Madness
1. The Journey and the Forsaken
2. To Fall from the Heavens
3. Under the Three Spheres
4. Into Black Holes of Oblivion
5. When the Light Fades Away
6. Behind the Shadows
7. Awaken Man and Stone
8. The Twisted Tower
9. To Where the Sun Never Leaves
10. The Beacon Beckons
11. Thrown Upon the Waves
12. Into the Unknown
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Mithras - Behind the Shadows Lie Madness
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