The nascent days of subgenres are often the most exciting. This is a time where a sound is being forged and new bands are appearing on a rapid basis, allured by the possibility of contributing musically. With very little set norms or conventions, the early adopters are capable of all playing wildly different forms of the style yet still fall under the same umbrella. Yet at some point, once the style gains popularity, imitators flock in and tired tropes and frameworks begin to take hold. As time progresses, the sound progresses further from its origins to become almost indistinguishable with where it started. To some extent, this has happened to many subgenres of metal, but Melodic Death Metal is arguably one of the most impacted ones.
Despite being one of extreme metal’s most popular styles, the wide difference that exists between early Melodic Death Metal (which can range from anywhere between 1991 and 1996 up until the late 90s depending on you who you ask) and what came after is night and day – as the genre progressively strayed further and further from its death metal origins. In very recent years however, a small cohort of bands have sought to re-explore the early days of the genre and to breathe new life into it – acts such as Mefitis, Draghkar, Dungeon Serpent, In Nothingness to name a few. Now with arrival of Majesties, another band joins the fray.
While technically a new band, Majesties is by no means composed of novice musicians. The band is a union of members from Obsequiae and Inexorum, both acts that could have easily been mentioned in the previous paragraphs as devotees keeping the style alive and well. Yet while Obsequiae is a band that takes Melodic Death/Black to infuse it with medieval music structures and Inexorum delivers a more atmospheric and brooding version; Majesties is a passionate homage to the early days of the genre, particularly the first releases of the Gothenburg school. This is apparent with its rampant use of carefully crafted and elegant harmonized riffs. In Flames would be an easy and obvious point of comparison, with the intro ‘In Yearning, Alive’ immediately launching into dual guitar melodies that would not be out of place on either ‘Subterranean’ or ‘The Jester Race’.
Yet while the influence is there and a couple of tracks (‘The World Unseen’ and the intro to ‘Verdant Paths to Radiance’ especially), the band does not limit themselves to one point of reference at all. Something that is overt in the music is the seamless transition between Melodic Death and Melodic Black. Connoisseurs of the style will know that in the early years of the genre there was great fluidity among both and the line that demarcated “Death Metal” and “Black Metal” was quite thin; if you don’t believe me, I urge you to re-visit not just the very early releases of Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, but a whole host of other bands such as Sacrilege, A Canorous Quintet or Fall of the Leafe to get an idea. These Black Metal overtones are best seen on display on the track ‘Across the Neverwhen’ where the vocals adopt a much shriekier nature and the furious double bass drumming would not feel out of place on a Dissection record.
More importantly, Vast Reaches Unchained captures a raw sense of energy, wonder and romanticism that made those first Melodic Death records so vivid while still firmly a “Death” Metal. There is a great sense of unison between all three band members, favoured by the relatively short length of the songs – with most songs rarely exceeding the 3-4 minute mark. If I had to choose one track that best exhibits every I’ve just talked about, it would be the glorious “Sidereal Spire”; a track that kicks off with regal guitar harmonies, furious double bass and some of the deepest vocals on the record that feel like a tribute to A Canorous Quintet. The intensity is only broken by the transition to a wonderful and soaring guitar solo that builds up to another powerful cascade of tremolo picked riffs.
As far as first efforts go, Majesties have knocked it out of the park. While we live in an era where nostalgia in music is greatly celebrated and people wish to revive the past, it feels like the mid 90s era of Melodic Death hasn’t quite gotten its due yet in the same way that for example 80s/early 90s Death Metal has. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but perhaps more fitted for another article. In the meantime, if you’re an enjoyer of the catalogue put out by Wrong Again Records, No Fashion or Invasion – this is a great time portal to that era.