MAJESTIES – Vast Reaches Unclaimed (2023)REVIEW

Acolytes of a dead religion, eyes lustrous in their eternal search beyond known realms. — A triage of time-warped attendants attain inspiring focus in seeking to revive sincere emotional surrogacy to the potentiate discarded by the old Gods, our woefully opportunistic founders, decades beyond the stamping upon our necks received a young generation or two ago. For the keenest eared listener with a mind for the provenance and history available to their exploration of underground music the unattainable substance, or, quinta essentia which briefly afflicted melodic death metal is an obvious, glaring feat when it too-rarely appears in earnest. Minneapolis, Minnesota-based trio Majesties surely have this quintessential spark on the tongue yet they offer more than the plaintive reprisal the surface-level types will insist is a warmly hugging nostalgic trip on their debut full-length album. In fact ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘ is a proper evolutionary thought utilizing the still-charming lilt of an old language to forge new wares. Rather than stroke it alongside a proclamation of nostalgia stoked, I would suggest this record should be treated as a work of great insight milled over since the ball was dropped by ye auld ancients roughly twenty-five years ago. If they are looking to the past at all it is for the sake of coloring in the bleakest failures of those “Gods” who’d never deserved the power they’d briefly wielded before unveiling swine-eyed ambitions. There is a wilderness beyond tropes suggested here at the onset of their faction which does much more than mourn better days, instead reviving the psyche of olden wonderment married to captivating heavy metal harmonies.

So many 90’s-matured minds were born and scoured within the emergent, inspiring romanticism of Swedish melodic death metal and its hyper-evolutionary development which promised an accessible route to existential empowerment rooted in the oldest heavy metal tradition. This decade-long process of development within a handful of Scandinavian musicians could no longer feign to mature along with its audience, overcrowding until the successes of blatant plagiarism soon forced hands to a tired popular rock conclusion. Chided ’til absorbed into diluted merger with popular music’s metastatic consciousness, melodic death metal did not go the way of bad alternative rock molecule by molecule, it did not slowly fade away: It died a grotesquely insincere death. One could easily argue that, without its soul even partially in tact beyond 1996, melodic death metal effectively transcended from human minds into the robotic, predictable language of “triumph” available to bad commercial extreme metal starting roughly around ~1999. One major goal of Majesties upon forming seems to have been taking on the sincere lineage of the actual good stuff, the original and perhaps coincidentally great items which cling to memory in melodic death metal, while putting their own mark upon the modus rather than serving blatant tribute. But to understand what they’ve added to this sub-genre one must first understand, without rose-colored nostalgic lenses, what melodic death metal actually was in its entirety throughout the mid-to-late 90’s and where the unique voice of these three folks shine through those ideals.

The smoked-alight bones of this record’s enthusiasm appear stacked within the high aptitudes and harmony rich exploration inherent to guitarist Carl Skildum‘s melodic black/death metal project Inexorum, which also features bassist/engineer Matthew Kirkwold, a band whose material acts as the beautifully evolved lotus of melodic black/death past and present. Listen to “Secret Language” from ‘Equinox Vigil‘ and you’ll find similar solace, precedence even, for what Majesties is in fundamental effect. But if we are to properly pitch ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘ for what it is, the outcome does not rely entirely upon that skill level and authorship. Instead this level of resplendent and personalized form distinctly applies itself to a mid-to-late 90’s melodic death metal stature and is given some considerable panache by vocalist, drummer and co-guitarist Tanner Anderson who is of course known for his work in Obsequiae. Before we shove our faces into the mud available to nostalgia it’d make the most sense to see this band as these two worlds fundamentally, and finally colliding. The eclipse reveals its black light as a focused, evocative work which delivers the similarly high standard these folks have delivered making plenty of beautiful music together in the past. See also: ‘The Palms of Sorrowed Kings‘, ‘Equinox Vigil‘, ‘Under the Regolith‘, etc.

Ah, but hey “Fuck off nerd, name drop some melodeath bands ffs“, right? For some ‘old school’ precedence, which only tangentially applies for the sake of the ape-brain needing longer standing positive experiences, we can look first not to the yawning maw of a few In Flames riff progressions circa ’94-’97 but to their more substantial immediate periphery wherein Sacrilege‘s deeply introspective dramatist weave on ‘Lost in the Beauty You Slay‘ provides some textural feeling separate from the droning blackened buzz of the grittier No Fashion-borne alternatives such as ‘Silence From the World Beyond‘ and/or The Moaning‘s full-length nearby. Ceremonial Oath‘s ‘Carpet‘ gives us tonality, sombre yet soldiering pieces rooted in an exaggeration of NWOBHM from ex-thrasher musicianship who’d hardly cared for groove so much as a sophisticated heavy metal stride. The reasonable conjoiner of these elements is of course Gates of Ishtar‘s ‘The Dawn of Flames‘ though the caveat is an emphasis on rock guitar leads rather than the quasi-neoclassical shred of say, the progressive-lite touch of Dark Tranquillity‘s ‘The Gallery‘. Though we cannot consider this a complete comparison since Majesties is an entirely guitar-driven record we can at least glean the spiritus of the record from these parameters. Just, sure, you’re going to hear Anderson‘s signature leads all over this thing alongside Skildum‘s knack for seizing the moment of captivating rhythmic uplift, a certain cathartic glowing rhythmic bliss that’d been so fleeting on those old records in the mid-90’s and their combined efforts creating ~40 minutes of only the good stuff on ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘.

Defibrillator of thy blackest hearts. — With all of that said you are probably not going to slap on opener “In Yearning, Alive”, whip out your phone and start itemizing every moment down to precedence, reference and reverence to past works beyond recognizing the effect of nostalgia. No doubt a piece like this will strike the emotional center of the brain like lightning and send it reeling within its gloriously consonant harmonization, a flailing wide dance of four guitars reaching a nigh propagandic inspiration in its phrasing. Thoughts are meant to fly within the throes of this music at the very least yet my reaction to this piece has been consistent with existential emotional release, shivering convulsions up through the throat that raise the brows of their weight and strike me with such regular dopamine shocks that I question both my own sanity and the drug-like effect of the multi-tiered nostalgic response, an impossible to brush off effect to start. The natural response to this first impression is “What if… Obsequiae leads but melodeath” and the result is heart-punching, head-reeling-back stuff if you are so inclined. The double-fisted barrage of two things I enjoy quite a bit is really as simple as the endorsement needs to be on my part, that they’ve kept this up for ten ~3-4 minute songs is the real mastery found beyond the hyper-effective potency of induction.

Examining the contents, the narrative and the astral-projected sojourn found within the limitless interior of the self we can naturally deduce that the pieces chosen and their sequence have been heartily examined, pined over for not only the sway of their physical movement but for the emotional effect they produce phrase by phrase. While some natural muscle memory and intelligent songcraft on ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘ dance together by virtue of easily read song structures the greater weave of the tapestry envisioned proposes an experience far more panoramic than classicist melodic death metal tends to achieve, most of those old traditions have focused on radio-readiness, songs which “hit” in a contained three and a half minute music video with one or two colorful guitar solos. Majesties create landscapes with their touch that render in real time, out of the containment of pure rock structures where there is a sense of exploration inherent to a piece like “Our Gracious Captors” which arrives upon its floaty dual guitar hooks with such fanfare that it feels like an aside, one step on a path with many circular detours. Consider this a sophisticated upgrade to the quickly written, dense yet inspired verve of ‘Lunar Strain‘ as that album attempted to bring the simple structural appeal of heavy metal to the dramatic treadway of early Eucharist influenced death metal without all of the necessary tools.

Granted the 1993 school of melodic death metal and its gnarly, brutal interruptus is decidedly not here to provide the ancient dark edge that many ’94-’97 releases relied upon for their after the fact appeal. The substitution here is the occasional blackened spire, pensive moments which will again appeal to the already hyped Obsequiae fan. Anderson‘s vocals are violent, trapped in a metal coffin, slightly distant and placed off-center from the focus of the many guitar layers and the strong rhythm section presence. This is especially characterising as we hit upon slower and more introspective pieces which gaze a bit harder at the stars, works which are are less densely packed with melodious action such as the “Across the Neverwhen” and “Sidereal Spire”. The argument for the album feeling like ‘The Jester Race‘ doesn’t entirely jive with my thoughts but I’d concede that the middle third of the album helps to sustain this observation, especially as things begin to reprise with “Temporal Anchor”. There are few classic melodic death metal albums which actually pick up steam for their grand finale in the way that ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘ does and you’ll find two of the better more involved pieces on the album closing it. The wild regalia of “City of Nine Gates” and the breakthrough of its final third was a major highlight for my own taste and though “Journey’s End” takes a while to finally strike iron it manages to bring some new feeling to the record that punctuates it, immortalizing the full spin with a moment you’ve got to re-listen to the whole thing in order to re-experience the payoff of full engagement.

By reaching for their own personal emotional experiences as fans of melodic death metal, mastering the simple melodic language of the form and tailoring it to their own signature tones and strengths as artists, the folks in Majesties have done much more than recreate the old magick of mid-90’s melodeath. They’ve crafted their own form of it which has some matured, still soul-searching substantive vision beyond dry nostalgia which is helped along by an essential bit of hifalutin performance applied to feats which lean into the inspired tonality of the sub-genre. It is with a bit of glowing wonderment that I’d drool over music which not only side-steps the ugly, tacky evolution of the form with their own distinct and decidedly cerebral stance but also comes with an especially fine render and stare-worthy artwork from maestro Juanjo Castellano. ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘ will likely appear as a bit of a bolt from the blue for some, and surely something familiar in construction for existing fans of associated works yet it will ultimately serve a resonant feat, and a complete package primed for the enjoyment of any melodic death metal fan. A very high recommendation.


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