On Strange Loops

Nine years is a mere nanosecond compared to the endless expanse of space and time, but that’s how long it has been since Mithras’ last full album, Behind the Shadows Lie Madness. That was my #1 album for 2007, and it still gets frequent play (its album cover also still gets regular desktop background honors), as there is nothing else out there that sounds quite like it. Since the release of BTSLM, bands like Fallujah, Caecus, Rivers of Nihil, and Inanimate Existence have added shimmering, ethereal, and psychedelic atmosphere to their pummeling deathcore and technical death metal. However, it’s unclear whether those bands would claim Mithras or Cynic’s Focus as their cosmic progenitor. All the same, guitarist/drummer Leon Macey and vocalist/bassist Rayner Coss are back from the void with a phenomenal new space odyssey, and the time away has been well-spent in further developing and crystallizing their already-inimitable sound.

It’s a sound at once thunderous and hypnotic, but you need to tune yourself to its frequencies. The songs hurtle by in an asteroid-belt barrage of percussion and twisting, shifting, otherworldly riffs, same as they did on BTSLM. Yet while those built up from a foundation of Morbid Angel-inspired churn, On Strange Loops finds Mithras working with a new approach. The compositions still shift and morph from minute to minute, but they’re focused on sharper melodies and looping patterns. Hence the album title, I imagine.

“The Statue on the Island,” for example, starts with a simple, chiming melody – a lone voice trilling and echoing in the stars. Then the song repeats that melody in a more brutal and relentless fashion, building upon that central loop, reworking it over time, and evolving it in an fractal progression. “Part the Ways,” “Howling of the Distant Species,” and “Time Never Lasts” (taken from the 2009 EP) also use that same kaleidoscopic approach, first establishing a pattern and then exploring it over time through repetition and constant change. “Between Scylla and Charybdis” takes a slightly different approach, with a call-and-response structure that is apt for the title (and evokes a battle between alien warships as much as it does mythological terrors on the ancient seas.)

Despite the focus on more discernable melodies (at least as a initial fractal seed), Mithras has not gone melodic death. The melodies range up and down the scales in a measured and mathematical way, which gives them an alien and unfamiliar cast. It’s a refreshing change from the minor-key malevolence you get from most death metal. The relative simplicity and repetition of the melodies and churning percussion also create space for Macey’s bizarre and sparkling solos, which are much more exploratory and out-there. What’s amazing is when every element goes supernova-weird all at once – layer upon layer balancing perfectly between chaos and coherence.

Album-wise, the star of the show for me is “Odyssey’s End.” At 7:47, it’s hardly a staggering epic, but it’s the longest track on the album (the title track is just behind it), and the most expansive journey. Like “The Statue on the Island,” it starts with a quiet, almost whimsical prelude that erupts into a much heavier refrain. As the track swirls into a colossal celestial groove like planets in orbit, it launches into one of Macey’s most improvisational solos on the album. Rayner Coss’ fairly-intelligible growls also contort into a nastier tone and snarl here, and given that his vocals are by necessity less colorful than the music, the variance is welcome.

On Strange Loops is far from a casual listening experience, but it is mandatory in today’s ever-splintering metal landscape. I find Mithras’ approach to be more impactful and precise than most of the restless djent or unfocused tech death I’ve heard, and more rewarding with each play. There’s a lot to take in, but when all of the elements lock into place, it’s simply sublime – or as sublime as you can get with brutal cosmic kaleidoscopic technical death metal, of course.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
October 24th, 2016


  1. Commented by: guilliame

    The production is amazing. I prefer the crisper guitar and general atmosphere. It doesn’t detract from the spacey quality. This things rips! I bet Macey is glad he doesn’t tour this every night on drums!

  2. Commented by: Rabid1

    Stunning! I had lofty expectations considering the nine year wait, coupled with Macy’s work with Sarpanitum, which was my personal favorite from last year (Contrarian’s “Polemic” just missed my top ten). Consider my expectations surpassed.

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