Monday 4 February 2019

Unmasked - Behind the Mask (2019)

Country: Germany
Style: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Jan 2019
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website

Depending where you look, Bonn's Unmasked tend to be described as melodic death metal or melodic doom/death metal. I can see both of those. However, the death is mostly in the vocals, which are harsh but easily understood even with Chris's obviously German accent; and the doom is more melancholy, especially through Aileen's keyboard work, which often has a gothic feel to it. There's also a bounce, even in slower sections, that only picks up with the tempo.

Maybe that's why the band's official website calls them 'modern progressive metal'. I wouldn't have called 'progressive' out as a focal point, but it's definitely there to be explored. The conversational section late in Gaia certainly has a progressive edge to it, before it moves into Arch Enemy territory. The piano intro to No Regrets could have been lifted from a Marillion album.

Unmasked were founded in 2013, with three original members still in the band and Chris and bassist Karsten Fent joining in 2017. This is a confident debut album, with a quartet of eight minute tracks and another that sits just under the six minute mark. Lengthy tracks fit the band's style well and most of those eight minute tracks play more like five to me.

These tracks are similar enough in style for them to blend together in our minds, especially on a first time through, but repeat listens bring the merits of each out for attention. Initially, for instance, I felt Drenched in Blood was the catchiest of the songs by far, with its swelling keyboards and chantalong chorus, making its pick as the single to precede the album a good one. However, after a few times through, it may actually be the least catchy.

Home, the shorter offering, has a neatly effective riff that's enhanced by keyboards and the words are more consistently chantable. I adore the ending, with a guitar solo over staccato drums that refuse to fade away. No Regrets is surprisingly catchy too, even if the middle feels like the band had lots of regrets, as evidenced through an enticing interplay of piano, guitar and drums. The end of Behind the Mask pushes that track into contention for catchiest too.

This isn't generally an album to sing along to though; much of the catchiness comes from the bouncy riffs and enticing keyboards, which is why Gaia, the only track I've not mentioned thus far, plays well in this company, with a driving middle section of almost symphonic stature, and renders this a particularly consistent album.

If it sounds like the consistency here is frustrating, it only is when I'm wearing my critic's hat. I couldn't pick a favourite here, because it's different every time I listen to the album, and I couldn't pick a best song either for the same reason. None of that affects my ability to enjoy the album, though, and I believe it's getting a little better still with each listen.

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