Mephistopheles
Sounds of the End

Willowtip’s strength as a label has long been their association with forward thinking and technically proficient metal bands willing to push the envelope and challenge the listener. Naturally they have wisely broadened their roster over the years to include artists of a more cut-throat and straight-forward brand of extremity. Yet my original attraction, and continued interest in the label, has been established and maintained through such challenging past and present artists like Kalibas, Ion Dissonance, Neuraxis, Necrophagist, Sophicide and Wormed. Enter Australia’s Mephistopheles, a tech-metal band most notably featuring the versatile vocals of Matthew Chalk (ex-Psycroptic) and former Spawn of Possession live guitarist Ben Lawless (guitars/vocals).

On their second long-player, Sounds of the End, they carry on the challenging song-writing traits and mind-bending musicianship of many of their label-mates to concoct an oddball and addictive amalgam of technical death metal spliced with progressive and blackened elements. The odd song-balance of straight-forward aggression and schizoid structural twists sounds a bit jarring and incoherent initially, but credit to the band’s song-writing skills that after a few more detailed listens this strange mix begins to gel and despite its challenging aspects the album is a remarkably listenable journey. The song-writing rarely becomes so challenging or convoluted that it becomes impenetrable; especially with the addition of melody and the catchy riffs and vocal patterns that punctuates their sound.

Underpinning Mephistopheles’ explorative song-writing and the brutal aspects of their sound is their forays into more progressive, melodic and even jazzy territory, showcasing their highly accomplished instrumental chops and willingness to expand beyond traditional death metal formulas and conventional song structures. James Excell brings a jazz-infused twang with his notable bass work, punctuating and complimenting the dexterous, frequently unorthodox guitar work and frantic drumming. Even when the music takes a more expansive direction, highlighted by the aforementioned melodic and progressive slant, the frequent use of blast beats and scattershot rhythms, coupled with Chalk’s vocals, keeps their death metal roots close to the surface.

Chalk is a damn fine vocalist with an incredibly elastic range of extreme vocal styles. I’m very fond of his early work with Psycroptic and it was a shame that he wasn’t in Spawn of Possession long enough to feature in the studio. On this recording his vocals are typically over-the-top and in your face, effortlessly changing from guttural explosions of varying pitches to full-blooded screams and blackened screeching, often within the same verse. The best thing about his varied styles is that there are no weak links, as he shifts between styles with brutal grace and conviction.

Opener “Pariahs of the Universe” gives a solid example of the oddities contained within. Following a sparse, plaintive intro and melancholic opening riff, the song quickly generates into an unpredictable guttural swarm of off-kilter guitars, brutal vocals and forceful double bass. The guitar work throughout the album is particularly interesting, highly technical and ‘out-of-the-box’, equally rooted in tech-death and progressive metal, and featuring a strong jazz and melodic undercurrent.

“Soldiers of the Endtime’ brilliantly illustrates the brutal and oddly beautiful attraction of Mephistopheles’ unique formula. Again the unpredictable nature of their music somehow remains coherent through the multitude of riff and tempo changes, as punishing straight-forward grooves are surrounded by chaotic time signatures and widdly technicality. Lawless’ clean vocals make fleeting appearances, delivering an effective melodic counterpoint to Chalk’s delivery. His vocals won’t be for all tastes and were admittedly a bit out of place at first, but I quickly warmed to their charms and they’re wisely deployed with sparing restraint. The excellent mid-album stretch of “Battle of the Sky and Sea”, the offbeat “Those Whose Skin was Gold” and the epic, “The Great Orbs Beyond our Skies”, highlights many of the albums strengths. There are occasions later in the album where the schizophrenic assault becomes a tad monotonous, on what is otherwise a fiercely original and accomplished album.

Sounds of the End may not get the acclaim of other such challenging death metal albums that have dropped this year, most notably Vermis and Colored Sands, nor is it quite the profound achievement of each of those outstanding albums. However listeners’ that like being challenged and mesmerized by their technical death metal, whilst being simultaneously beaten to a bloody pulp, will find much to enjoy here. Mephistopheles’ strange yet compelling album is an ambitious, intriguing piece of work that stands as one of the unsung gems of the year.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
November 7th, 2013

Comments

  1. Commented by: Yuk

    This sounds like a more-technical Hieronymus Bosch. Tech death with a generous helping of “weird.” Awesome!


  2. Commented by: Allred

    Nice review…I’ve really enjoyed this album a lot; so much, that I’d put it up there as one of the best releases this year..


  3. Commented by: Guilliame

    It’s great. Quirky Tech Death!


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