Myrath
Tales of the Sands

One of the things I love most about metal is that it’s so diverse and far-reaching that I’ve been able to amass a United Nations of a collection. And sure, we probably all have our share of classic American thrash, British heavy metal, Swedish melodic death and Norwegian or French black metal, but how about Portuguese black/death? Or Italian tech death? Or progressive/symphonic black metal from Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic or South Korea?

What’s that? You have all of that too? Well how about Tunisian power/progressive metal?

I don’t think the power metal scene in Tunisia is all that deep to begin with, but if it is, Myrath has to be its star attraction. They’re a phenomenal act that blends rousing, galloping power metal with authentic Middle Eastern orchestration and melodies, and Tales of the Sands, their third full-length, is one of my favorite discoveries of the year.

Right away, “Under Siege,” “Braving the Seas” and first single “Merciless Times” kick the journey off in high gear. All three are high-tempo anthems with syncopated riffing over lush, swooping Middle Eastern strings and orchestration, and all urged forward by a rhythm section that sounds like a Dothraki khalasar thundering across the sands. Vocals are a triumph as well – sinuous and mysterious in the verses, then bursting with urgency in the huge, hook-laden choruses. Female choral and backing vocals occasionally glide in to add a tinge of sadness, and keyboard interludes bring the prog – they’re more synthy in tone than the orchestration, but somehow they meld in just fine. Most of all, I really appreciate Myrath‘s balanced songwriting approach; it’s heroic material, but it also eschews a lot of the cheese you find in the genre. In other words, more Saint Deamon and Symphony X than Hammerfall and Rhapsody of Fire.

It’s also important to point out that the Middle Eastern sound is not a gimmick here – it feels genuine and well-integrated. That’s no more apparent than on the title track, which is arguably the least ‘metal’ song on the entire album, but also one of the most memorable. That’s because it’s less a metal track with Middle Eastern elements than it is a Middle Eastern pop song with the metal as the foreign spice. Seriously, it sounds like someone threw some crunchy guitar riffs into a plaintive Indian ballad, complete with wailing male and female vocals, varied and multi-timbred drums, and once again, some fabulously melodic and anthemic hooks. And then, just to remind you that this is still, in fact, a metal band, Myrath unleash a short, fiery progressive bridge and solo. It all adds up to one of the most unique and addictive tracks I’ve heard all year.

After such an epic first act, Tales of the Sands takes a darker turn for its midsection. I like “Sour Sigh,” which brings some variety by relying on a more somber melody and crunchier stomp, but then it’s followed by two more songs with dour melodies, lurching tempos and aggressive stances, and this makes me miss the exuberant heroics of the first four tracks. And “Requiem for a Goodbye” sticks out from the pack simply because it seems to eschew Middle Eastern melodies altogether, with an overuse of warbling prog-metal synth backing an ungainly melody in the verses. However, its sweeping chorus redeems it, and prepares us for another of the album’s high points in the follow-up, “Beyond the Stars.”

Oddly enough, the pumping thrash/groove intro of “Beyond the Stars” reminded me of none other than Lamb of God, but then the song transforms into another intense progressive metal powerhouse with some of the album’s most intense vocals. And it contains another traditional Tunisian/Middle Eastern chorus sung in the band’s native language, followed by an epic instrumental interlude that brings back some of the melodies from the title track.

Finally, album closer “Time to Grow” ends things on a triumphant and dramatic note. It’s a moodier affair like some of those mid-album songs I mentioned earlier, but it cranks to a yearning chorus that recalls Journey or, again, Saint Deamon. Great stuff. (There’s also a bonus track called “Apostrophe for a Legend,” and it’s energetic enough, but with its tinkly Napalm Records goth-metal keyboards, it sounds too much like the pop end of the progressive metal spectrum. Sadly, it also contains little of the Middle Eastern elements that make the rest of the album so thrilling and unique).

Tales of the Sands is well-worth checking out if you’re a sucker for big melodies and power/prog heroics. Although its midsection flags a bit, the album’s high points – and there are quite a few of those – are addictive and hugely satisfying. And given that we’ve been hearing Middle Eastern elements and melodies in metal for years (everything from Symphony X and Nightwish to Nile and Behemoth), hearing it done by regional natives – and so unashamedly lush and sumptuous to boot – makes this a true treasure of the desert.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
December 14th, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: vortex

    The music isn’t my thing but regardless, it’s really good to hear metal from such diverse places. Thank you for the review! Bands like these are the reason I love metal ..


  2. Commented by: ceno

    Splendid review. One of the best albums in the genre this year. Their previous two albums are also pretty solid.


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