Thursday 30 May 2019

Myrath - Shehili (2019)

Country: Tunisia
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 3 May 2019
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Myrath are the latest beneficiary of an odd phenomena that's done well for The Hu and Bloodywood. This is where people who aren't remotely metal fans are confronted with YouTube music videos shared on their Facebook walls of styles of music that they had no idea even existed. Mongolian folk metal? Indian rap metal? Tunisian superhero metal? The response is often to laugh at how wacky these genres seem but then to realise that these wacky genres sound a lot better than the mainstream crap that they're used to. Hey, that really isn't bad, they say, and so the world changes.

Myrath are the last of those three examples, a Tunisian progressive metal band with folk elements. They make music videos that tell ongoing stories with the band cast as what seem to be interdimensional superheroes. They're very cool indeed but the music on this, their fifth studio album, stands on its own. I've been playing this a lot over the last couple of weeks and it just keeps on getting better. It's got to the point that I have to apologise for not posting reviews for a couple of days because I just wanted to listen to this again.

The first couple of seconds of the album may sound eerily like the start to Money for Nothing, but the intro quickly establishes itself as something we haven't heard before. It seems reminiscent of an Islamic call to prayer and it ably highlights that we aren't in Kansas any more, Toto.

It seems odd to suggest that this intro sounds notably eastern, given that, if the band look east from their home town of Ez Zahra, they'll see Sicily and Malta, but it's certainly not 'western'. What follows is a magnificent demonstration of balance because Myrath are both eastern and western, both crunchy and folky, both progressive and catchy. More than anything, their balance between melody and power is so good that I can't think of a better example.

And, what's more, all this is in evidence on every single track, with the sole exception of Stardust, whose classical piano and playful bass leads it emphatically into western prog ballad territory. The oriental textures are everywhere else, whether in fluttering vocals, handheld drums or what really shouldn't be called Egyptian strings when the band are from Tunisia. North African strings maybe; do they have those in Libya in between? The majority of the album is sung in English but sections here and there are in what I presume is a dialect of Arabic.

Initially, my favourite songs were all in the middle of the album. Lili Twil is gorgeous; it's prog metal rather than folk metal but the flute and the lilting voice both add folk flavour. Dance is a fantastic commercial single and Monster in My Closet doesn't run far behind, with a glorious bounce, a great violin riff and a fantastic chorus. Both deserve to be massive hits in the west. Wicked Dice often approaches arena rock without feeling out of place.

The more I listened to the album, though, the more the first half grew to match the middle in quailty. Born to Survive is a worthy single and You've Lost Yourself feels anthemic with its memorable early siren giving way to a handheld drum fiesta and very catchy vocals. And then the last few tracks grew too, especially the deep title track which closes out the album. How do I pick favourites? I guess I don't.

Initially, I just thought there wasn't a bad track here, but much repeated listening tells me that there isn't an average one either. Last month saw only two 8/10s from me but this has to be a third 9/10 for me in May alone. It's outstanding stuff and there are four prior albums for me to discover. Life is good!

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