Monday 18 March 2024

Myrath - Karma (2024)

Country: Tunisia
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 Mar 2024
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Back in May 2019, when I reviewed three 9/10 albums in a month, my album of that month was the fifth album by Tunisian progressive folk metal band Myrath, Shehili. It was my first by them but it utterly blew me away, its merger of technical progressive metal with north African folk melodies and rhythms unique and enticing. It wasn't just me who thought so either, because I saw videos of songs on that album shared out on social media more than once by friends who aren't even metal fans. I was naturally keen to hear their next album, which was due last year but delayed for some reason until March of this year.

The good news is that it's a good album. The bad news is that it's nothing like Shehili, and not just in quality but in style. The former is understandable, because few bands can knock out classics of that album's stature every time out, and as long as they're still doing good work, then it's trivial to forgive. The latter is less understandable, because, while bands often indulge in musical shifts, both good and bad, this one seems to be about stripping away the elements that make them who they are and why they're special but keeping the ones that don't.

I'd call that a terrible idea, but it depends on what their goals are. Given that the ones that don't make them special are highly commercial in nature, this is perhaps a financial decision to aid the conquest of the musical map by Myrath, if not as a progressive folk metal band then as a melodic rock band. After all, there are surely more fans of melodic rock across the globe than there are of progressive folk metal. If that's what they want, then they achieved it here, ending up sounding a lot like a Swedish melodic rock band, while retaining some of the crunch that many would see as a hallmark of metal. Of course, this is their band, so they can do what they want.

Unfortately, it isn't what I want from them and it doesn't seem to be what their existing fans want either. Sure, I like their huge hooks, which are almost as good here as on Shehili, the standout on that front being Candles Cry. However, I can get huge hooks from a lot of other bands. I don't need Myrath for that. What I go to Myrath for is all that ethnic north African flavour, something I can't hear anywhere else on account of there not being many Tunisian metal bands out there and only this one that I'm aware has been doing this sort of thing.

And that flavour just isn't here. There's a little bit of ethnic rhythm in the bookends of the opener, To the Stars, but it mostly vanishes in between, with a little more to be found in the keyboard solo in the midsection. There are some cool violins halfway through Into the Light that are more world than the orchestration around them. There's a north African melody on Words are Failing. There are the tasty bookends to Temple Walls. But that's about it. There's literally more ethnic flavour in Asl, the sixty-nine second intro on Shehili, than there is on this entire album.

To me, that's a real disappointment. To those die hard fans who have followed Myrath from their debut album, Hope, back in 2007, it's a bigger disappointment because they apparently began on this journey shortly after and merely took their final leap away from that world flavour here. Now, I'm relatively new to them, but I've read the suggestion that this may be due to the change from Elyes Bouchoucha, their keyboard player until 2022, to their producer Kévin Codfert, the keyboard player in French symphonic power metal band Adagio. I can't say that Bouchoucha was the origin of their unique sound or the loss of it, but it seems to fly.

All of that goes to explain that Karma is not Shehili and never intended to be. That said, what it is isn't bad at all. These are highly capable musicians, whatever instrument they're playing, and that goes for Codfert as much as anyone else. He and vocalist Zaher Zorgati are most prominent here, with tasty guitar parts from Malek Ben Arbia too. Everyone involved adds neat little touches to songs and gets their own moments to shine and that includes bassist Anis Jouini and drummer Morgan Berthet as well as everyone I've already mentioned. However, few of them get much opportunity to show what they can do. This isn't as intricate music as on Shehili and presumably a lot less than earlier albums. That progressive edge may not have vanished but it's vanishing.

In its place, there's a lot of AOR in the melodic sweeps of songs like Let It Go, some funk on Words are Failing and some Iron Maiden-esque woah woah on To the Stars. Even where there are hints, like the very opening of Words are Failing or at various points on Child of Prophecy, they simplify very quickly into something far less complex. I should see what melodic rock guru Chris Franklin of the Raised on Rock radio show thinks about this. As much as he enjoys originality, he may dig this much more than I do, being more into the progressive, folk and metal elements of what this band used to play, which are most evident here on Child of Prophecy and not much else.

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