Style: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Release Date: 2 Jan 2019
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An unusual organ intro leads to an unusually yowling guitar and a pretty decent album, the first from Mistveil, a one man melodic doom/death outfit from Athens, Greece. That man is Stavros Stavrou and he performs all the instruments here as well as providing all the notably abrasive vocals (except for a guest appearance on one track). It's quite the achievement for one man and it's worthy of exploration.
The Lake of Fire and Sulfur is a fascinating opener, partly on its own merits but partly because it refuses to define a sound for the album to follow. It's the longest song on the album and its lengthy intro leads into an achingly slow piece that eventually picks up a wild tempo and an oddly upbeat haunting melody. Stavrou is clearly telling us not to expect any one thing from this album but to keep our minds open as to where he can take doom/death.
By comparison, Spiegel Graus is far less varied but a lot more catchy, with its relatively consistent sound driven by a hurdy-gurdy sounding looping guitar and an enticingly tinkling piano. A lot of the songs here would play a lot more conventionally if they didn't have little edges like that to elevate them, like the plaintive guitar in Thorns, the duetting voices in A Rose from Heaven or the earworm riff in The Gambler's Heart.
There is a downside and it's an odd one. Underworld has a fast (for doom/death) and driving feel, but cuts the speed halfway through to wrap up with plodding drums and surprisingly prominent cymbals over a deceptively simple riff and the sibilance at the top end is rather distracting. The overt cymbals combine with Stavrou's enunciation to add a high hiss that's especially noticeable late in Underworld and on other slowburn tracks like The Liar. I ended up doing something that I honestly don't ever recall doing in the last couple of decades, namely tweaking the equaliser to stop me thinking that my speakers were dying or my ears had exploded.
That's sad because I was really enjoying the music; there's a old school feel here that I dug a lot. There are hints of early Paradise Lost dotted throughout, but mostly it's their Halifax compatriots My Dying Bride who are clearly the key influence. This is a very different beast from the other doom/death albums that I've reviewed recently, from bands such as Phlebotomized or Unmasked, and I'm enjoying that variance.
Mistveil have a more gothic edge than either of those bands but nowhere near enough to push it into the gothic/doom territory of Oblivions Kiss, even with the instrumental title track closing out the album like a duet between a violin and a carillon. It's an agreeably haunting way to finish things off and that's very gothic.
Where Stavrou really finds his own sound, though, is in his vocal style. Stefan Nordström from Soliloquium and The Ashen Tree guests on Defeated But Victorious and he's a better vocalist but his able contribution also highlights just how different Stavrou's voice is. As good as Nordström is, he sounds like a lot of other death metal growlers and I'd be hard pressed to tell him apart from any of them. Stavrou's voice is his own, an unholy mixture of black and death styles and it's agreeably raw.
I thought I was going to hate his abrasive vocals but, after fixing the sibilance issue and running through the album a few more times, I found that they had become a highlight for me, especially given that he layers in backing vocals in wildly different styles, from clean to whispering, that add a whole new element to this material.
Like a lot of quality doom/death, this is an album to explore. One listen isn't going to do it, but a little investment of time will pay dividends as each track emerges to make its pitch for favourite status.
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