Style: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: 21 Jun 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube
I have a love/hate relationship with melodic death metal, which somehow has apparently become the default sound of metal nowadays. On the one hand, the vocal style that comes along with it is inherently limiting, so bands have a tough job standing out from an ever-increasing crowd. Let's be frank: most melodeath bands sound like most other melodeath bands. On the other hand, a few still manage to find a way to bring something new to the table and they are worth their weight in gold.
Mothflesh stood a really good chance of being one of those few. I have to admit that I was drawn (ahem) to them because of their name, which is truly glorious. The wonderful cover art on this, their debut album, helped and it can't hurt that they hail from Kuala Lumpur. I just had to find out what a band like this would sound like and, while they hardly redefine the genre, they sound fresh and engaging to me.
Perhaps this is partly because they're clearly not interested in being just melodic death metal, taking it instead as a starting point to launch into a groove metal direction, hauling in other subgenres for the ride whenever it seems like a good idea. Their Bandcamp page states that they combine death, groove, industrial and thrash "to lateralise uncharted sonics".
A song like Swordfish, their first single, is a great starting point to hear just how diverse that gets. It's death metal for a couple of minutes with a thrash element or two, before it spins up Tool rhythms, sets a pit in motion with a groove section, hints at doom with a neat slow riff and then builds an alternative chorus, which remains at a consistent tempo, even when Tunku Shafiq hits hyperspeed on his drumkit, finally ending with a chanting outro. There's a heck of a lot going on in this song.
Frankly, if everything was this wild, I'd like Nocturnal Armour more than I already do, but the only other track to match it is the outro, Invertebrate, a two and a half minute instrumental with violins and electronica. Alternate universe versions of Mothflesh would have started their album with this and followed with Swordfish before blurring even more genre borders over thirty more minutes of tracks.
Sadly, that isn't what we get but what we do get isn't bad at all. It's just more straightforward. Some songs start out groove and then move into death, while others start out death and move into groove. Bufferzone adds a little electronica, but it's a groove song. Pleasure Principle adds a little power too, before thrashing it up and cycling back to groove. It's a good song and it's the opener to the album in this reality.
The other single is Skinless, which highlights just how deep the drum sound is on Nocturnal Armour. You'll need good speakers to avoid some distortion at the low end. It gets interesting a couple of minutes in but can't hold a candle (ahem) to Swordfish, even with a neatly layered finish.
I can't help but wonder after a couple of listens which songs were the first written. I kind of hope that Swordfish is the most recent because it would point the way to a truly interesting band and a very promising second album. It could be that it's the oldest song here, which wouldn't promise as much, as the band in that scenario are moving more mainstream and predictable. I guess we'll need to wait for the follow up album to find out.