MOLTEN – Dystopian Syndrome (2021)REVIEW

Constantly applied oppressive societal pressure should naturally arrest the delusion of a perfect society maintained via corporate totalitarian government yet we cannot convince the majority of participants to admit that the United States of America is a true dystopia by definition — And this holds no matter how conveniently wrong either any two faintly divided “sides” may appear. Peeling away this haughty layer of gelatinous utopian thought from the mind of the masses is not a matter of finesse but rather what counter-cultural blade’d first manage to catch beneath the destabilized titanium-tinted gloss of “prosperity” or, the unrealistic need to rise above the reek of such a garbage-rich civilization and see something akin to prosperity. Who effectively has the noteworthy symptoms of doom in this reality, though? The happily unwitting and easily silenced masses or, the fool who’d by chance know better? Talking down to corporate power is a stinking, virtuous madness well worth exuding upon the senses of automatonkind and perhaps one of the major political tenets of classic thrash metal’s later 80’s period, more or less the archetypal point of refinement for said heavy metal sub-genre and just one important piece of what drives San Francisco, California-based death/thrash metal quintet Molten to push those dour classicist extremes ’til death on their debut full-length ‘Dystopian Syndrome’.

For first-timer’s full-length ‘Dystopian Syndrome’ radiates a mature, sepia-toned death/thrash seriousness with a decidedly pensive-yet-“classics only” set of heavy metal influences that dictate a serious performative urgency, shaking you awake into the early 90’s zombie apocalypse you’d been dreaming of. The dramatic-yet-swinging tone of Bay Area thrash’s shred n’ riff ready ambition characterizes Molten‘s style and songwriting with some immediate distinction from the more typical “brutal” thrasher worship aiming for Demolition Hammer and Kreator-minded fare, which also typically rules in my book. For this meshing of classic heavy/thrash metal and late 80’s death metal to really gel the death/thrash metal riff choices need to find their own potency and repeatability quickly, as the epic heavy metal tirades and Bay Area thrash metal theatrics suggested dissolve the tension that the heavier/faster death riffing builds. I say this as a testament to how effective Molten are at making death-heavy their quite classic traditional heavy metal limbs and also to emphasize the prime cross-pollination that a thoughtful heavy metal album achieves when the band in question also manages some effective refocus upon their riffcraft.

The opening moments of ‘Dystopian Syndrome’ (“Shadows in Quarantine” b/w “Virulence”) develop as if they’d reinvigorated a generation’s lost follow up to Insanity‘s ‘Death After Death’ with our first glint of classical acoustic guitar and lumbering piano runs, riding the thunder of approaching riffs as Molten literally roar and shred into earshot. From that point the quintet deliver what is perhaps the best of tradition of heavy metal: The death/thrash metal album that leans heavily towards stylized classic thrash metal — In this case leaning towards late 80’s Bay Area thrash before the house parties got weird and the haircuts started happening. If I’ve successfully belabored the sub-genre implications here with strong enough points then you’ll understand why I’m inclined to love what Molten achieve here, both as a fan of classic thrash metal and death/thrash metal as it developed throughout the late 80’s. The listening experience is nostalgic on a few levels because of this and exists as a collision of classics frozen in time. The mood of this album is not nostalgic though, and instead immerses itself in rage, despair, the creeping unknown, and a certain dread that hangs heavy; A mystification or, mystère expresses without any sure-shot indication of doom’s arrival just yet as the themes remain wistful or, playfully contemplative delivery akin to the spirit of 80’s heavy metal. Think of this as a fantasy NWOBHM-aged take on death metal’s cadence, none too spiritually distant from a band like Hexx, who’d found their way towards a “brutal” death/thrash metal sound akin to Sadus in the late 80’s and early 90’s; Molten‘s riffing is perhaps more sophisticated and certainly far more long winded but the vibe wears its wrinkles proudly. The stretch-waisted and complex-but-gloriously musical “progressive” thrash metal riffing “Rising Embers” serves is a smart showcase of this mood at full coronal mass ejection, dropping into an mid-80’s Iron Maiden-esque ballad territory as it peaks.

The end of the album isn’t the first moment to break into this Mekong Delta and (early) Slayer-sized fantasy metal thrashabout but it may well be the most effective and profound musical moment of the full listen. Here we see the larger vision, the “ride” the band have composed and the set goalposts or, benchmarks to be hit along the way as ‘Dystopian Syndrome’ becomes more ambitiously expressed as it reveals its most accessible centerpieces. The high points of this ride will fit neatly in the ballpark of more recent equivalencies such as Demoniac‘s (Chile) second record and perhaps the final Hexen album from early last decade, progressive via some neoclassical and existential heavy metal bonds. “Virulence” is the best and literal first place to start for the sake of the sheer energetic and riff-obssessed charge its atmosphere radiates, a bit of ‘A Shedding of Skin’-era Protector to push along but a lead guitar melody that reads decidedly pre-’86 speed metal as the main verse runs chime in more often. This is the first sign of what may be an “awkward division” or a “virtuous versatility” depending on the taste of the listener as the techy death/thrash metal side (“Holy Macabre”) and the ruddy ‘Don’t Break the Oath’ spooked soul (“Zombie’s Curse”) of the band eventually separate and re-merge within the far more involved riff-density in the second half of the experience. Upon first listen I’d not really gotten the appropriate ‘Show No Mercy’ vibe just yet as I’d been too interested in the Insanity-esque anxietous riffing of the first few songs to appreciate the odd paradigm shift Side B presents as it begins. When “The Void” emerges the two forces have realigned as one, a sort of death/speed metal machine that leans into a progressive death/thrash metal apex as the album comes to a close, cycling back to my thoughts on “Rising Embers” neatly. At the very least it is an album that goes places, all good places, and eventually rests in resolution of an intelligent-but-heavy stylistic anomaly. Not a hundred percent flawless wall-to-wall action but a viable crossing of classic death metal heaviness with catchy, proggy, and theatrical late 80’s thrash and traditional heavy metal.

For my own taste all of this lined up beautifully with some concerted listening, first finding an awkward division of 80’s and 90’s specific attributes and eventually discovering the actual craft of those elements exuberant in presentation and satisfyingly ominous in tone. Could the death metal riffs be more relentless? Perhaps not without sacrificing the ancient heavy metal appreciation that makes ‘Dystopian Syndrome’ so interesting, the ranting quality of the riffing and the galloping, progressive pacing it requires is a major source of versatility for Molten and would be too much of a casualty if things were to chunk up and brutal down. No doubt the experience is a “grower” even if you’ll find it instantly appealing there is depth and austerity that develops beneath the morbid death-thrashing exterior ‘Dystopian Syndrome’ sports. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Dystopian Syndrome
RELEASE DATE:January 15th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death/Thrash Metal,
Heavy/Speed Metal

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