You don’t have to like melodic death metal but there’s definitely something that’s inherently irresistible to the style; big hooks, riffs that last for days and vocal/lyrical combos that always appeal to the most epic and inherently relate-able themes. At the same time, it can also be grating and grow old pretty quickly, drowning in over-indulgence and the genre’s stifling them. Interestingly enough, it’s almost as if melodic death metal, in taking metal to its extremities in many ways, is the genre writ large, enjoying and suffering from the same strengths and weaknesses that run at the core of metal but to a larger degree, made huge by melodic death’s huge approach to the style.
That debut albums bear these attributes as well as a testimony to how powerfully the sub-genre conforms to its own norms and how distinct in pervasive its tropes are. It’s almost as if, even when dealing with young, fresh bands, melodic death metal puts its dual stamp on every band that works within the genre. This is very much the case with Aeolian‘s Silent Witness, a debut melodic death album which exemplifies all that’s great alongside all that’s limited with the genre. When the album starts, tracks like “Immensity” and “The End of Ice” are hard to resist; the riffs are huge and well made, the drums and bass are fast and satisfying, providing a thrumming counterpoint to the guitars. The vocals are even more convincing, whether screaming defiance in the name of nature or intoning man’s demise in chilling cleans.
In general, the lyrical subject matter of Silent Witness is immediately decipherable and endearing. It speaks of the damage mankind is wreaking on the planet and how far we’ve come from our roots. All of that, plus the instrumental elements mentioned above, are some of the best things in melodic death metal. Add great solos and moving leads (especially on “Going to Extinction”, probably the best track on the album) and everything falls together into a high octane formula of moving music that reminds us of all that’s flagrant and flamboyant about metal. Which, of course, is exactly it’s downfall. Like so many melodic death metal albums, Silent Witness does all it basically needs to do well but, at the end of the day, does only that.
Plenty of the tracks on the album tend to blend together, their full potential chained by the limitations and frameworks of melodic death metal. There’re only so many times you can hear that riff and that solo; the ear gets tired and the stirring edge falls quickly to diminishing returns. Thus, plenty of the tracks on the second half of the album, while perfectly good tracks in and of themselves, aren’t memorable. The blast beats, the deep-throated screams, the melodic riffs, all seem to wash together and fail to leave much of a mark.
In Aeolian’s defense, they work hard to try and dispel that effect; a transitional track and some of their larger and more well-written riffs (like the opening of “Black Storm” for example) do much to correct their genre’s inherent lackluster run times. But, at the end of the day, you really have to love melodic death metal to be able to wade through every step of this album and feel every moment of it. Just like metal as a whole, to an extent, melodic death metal is a bit much but if you love it, then there’s nothing quite like it. And if you do love it then there’s little more you could ask from Silent Witness; it has everything a fan of melodic death metal could possibly need. So, if your heart yearns for all grandiose, all the time, if a truckload of riffs that just don’t stop is what you’re after, then this is definitely the album for you.
Silent Witness releases on September 12th. Head on over to the band’s Bandcamp above to pre-order it.