In last month’s column, I discussed my love for symphonic death metal and the three albums that brought it to the forefront of my memory. One of those albums, Bu-Tik, seemed to straddle the line between symphonic metal, melodeath, and black metal, which is a good segue into what we will be getting to today.
The more I kept listening to symphonic death metal, the more I began to realize that there was something else to it. Some of the albums I would look into would also have the melodic death label, which intrigued me. As a former cellist, symphonic and melodic were used interchangeably – granted, there is a fine line of separation – so I always associated them with orchestra music or operatic metal. However, sometimes you need someone to push you in a different direction in order to try something new.
After that push, I became somewhat more educated not only in the difference between melodic and symphonic death metal, but also what melodic death metal actually was.
It’s time we talk about melodeath.
As I transitioned from traditional symphonic metal to other genres, I decided to also look into albums that I had heard once upon a time through Pandora and see what they had been labeled as. Of course, back in the early days of my being a metalhead, it mattered – it gave me a sense of superiority that otherwise did not exist in my day-to-day existence. As I grew older and I found myself learning more about the genre and its dynamics, I shed my superiority away and decided to just focus on what I liked. Because of that, I fell into a rut and went for comfort. Now, with Spotify being such a great asset to find music (and it still doesn’t have everything), I decided to revisit an album that, at the time, was a power metal album. That album was Mercenary’s The Hours That Remain, and I basically played that album until I grew sick of it. Not knowing where to turn to when it came to new genres that I have dabbled but not explored, I asked for recommendations and I got some.
Cue one of my best friends, Misha.
Misha is the kind of guy who, like Schmidty from ages ago, knows the metal he likes and what he’s willing to invest in. However, unlike Schmidty, he was willing to guide me and give me the stepping stone to further pursue the unexplored realm of melodeath. He is also, clearly, older than me and had been at this longer than I had, so I trusted (and continued to trust) his judgment. As people who met through the Internet, we bonded over music – particularly the Devin Townsend Project – and we have shared many of our favorite albums between us. To this day, he remains one of my best and closest friends, and he’s one of the best resources I know regarding melodeath. He also introduced me to Hypocrisy, Blood Stain Child, and Sybreed – at this point in time, he started to know what I like and what I would be into. After giving me some pointers and telling me what I would enjoy, he set me loose into the world of melodeath without a parachute.
Given my vast musical background, my tastes are really hard to narrow down, which is why it’s easier to ask me what I am currently listening to rather than what my favorite bands are. Misha made it easier to pin down, suggesting that if I liked a certain project (i.e. PAIN), I would like the actual band the member was part of (i.e. Hypocrisy). Granted, I didn’t have to like everything in the band’s catalogue, but if I found something I liked, I would play it until I couldn’t play it anymore. It was an interesting time in our friendship – sharing music between us and spending hours talking to each other despite being in different time zones.
As soon as I jumped the gun and decided to fully pursue melodeath as a viable genre to enjoy, I began to see the difference between symphonic death and melodic death. For one thing, the main orchestral backing you hear in symphonic metal is either minimized or does not have a role in the music at all. Instead, the melody was in the riffs of the guitars and the vocals are also a lot different from what I was used to. For one thing, there was definitely a lot more energy to them. Gone was the control and the restraint of the vocals I was most familiar with; instead, the vocals were harsher, more vibrant, and had an edge to them that felt they could fly off the page. I was so into it that I started to (tentatively) listen to what I could get my hands on. Granted, there are people who will tell you that the genre has since evolved into something that they can’t name or has lost its luster from what the Swedes made, but who cares? It might be corny, its aesthetics might be changing, but it’s enjoyable music at the end of the day.
Melodic Death Metal Gateway Albums
There were a lot of contenders for being on this list, but I decided to narrow the amount of bands to three, with one of them being a selfish pick. I will let you guess which one that was. I also decided to not showcase any Swedish melodeath, just because then I would have to make some In Flames jokes, and I have no desire to do that.
Mercenary – The Hours That Remain (2006): For a long time, I thought Mercenary was a power metal band because of the vocals on this album. For one thing, most of the vocals on The Hours That Remain were clean – harsh vocals are virtually non-existent – so nothing about it told me it was a melodeath album. It even had that big keyboard backing I have heard frequently used in most of the power metal I have been acquainted with. I remember I spent about six months straight in 2009/2010 listening to the first four tracks, eventually getting sick of it and mentally labeling it as power metal. It wasn’t until I listened to Through Our Darkest Days in 2016 that I realized that Mercenary was not a power metal band. In fact, they were melodeath and their brand of the genre was so much different from the Swedish brand that it was no-brainer that I had been duped. It wasn’t what I was used to at the time, and with no previous baseline from my previous dabbling, I had lumped this into the wrong genre. I actually went back and revisited this album a few months ago, eventually writing some thoughts on it. Of course, this album has been shelved since the day I wrote about it, as I need a break from it and it will be some time before I pick it up again.
Sybreed – God Is An Automaton (2012): Misha introduced me to this band and to this album sometime in late 2014/early 2015, which was already done for because, at this point, Sybreed was done as a band (three of the members became Obsydians, and I am hoping they release an album soon). We both commented on the fact that this band was done and then proceeded to talk about this album to death. Shortly after that, I listened to this steadily until very recently. For a swan album, God Is An Automaton is so incredibly well-crafted, you would think that these dudes were coming straight out of the Gothenburg metal scene. Nope, these guys are Swiss, and they combined a lot of industrial tones into their brand of melodeath that it doesn’t surprise me that we are now seeing more of a trance aspect into the genre. Personally, this album was on heavy rotation for such a long time that I cannot play it anymore because I got sick of it. I played it during moments of joy, moments of high stress, and moments of deep sadness. I don’t know how many times I have sat and cried to this album, Benjamin’s vocals keeping me company as he sang about robots and trying to find God. I also loved it so much that I played “Challenger” 205 times during a good period of time. I am sure I played it more than that – since I don’t have Last.fm connected to all of my devices – but it was still good amount of replays to fully cement this album as a soft favorite. I might listen to it again at some point, but nowhere in the near future.
M.H.X.’s Chronicles – Infinite Ocean (2015): I have heard enough about Brazil to know that the country is a hotbed for metal, so it comes as no surprise that I would eventually find melodeath from a vast catalogue of music. When I first found this album, I was going through a rough time at work and I didn’t know if my job as a temp would be terminated or not. I decided to buy music as a pick-me-up for Christmas, and this album was intriguing enough for me to buy it. After a brief period of turmoil in January 2016, I dove headfirst into this album and I loved it so much that I played it sporadically until February 2017. In periods of deep sadness, I kept coming back to this album – something about its themes and music calmed me and also gave me strength during those periods. Infinite Ocean also accompanied me during my initial commutes to my new job in late 2016. The music was soothing and digestible at this point where I could play it and not feel uneasy. It became a safety blanket, and it kept me company through the beginning of that job. Eventually, Infinite Ocean got replaced by Recode the Subliminal’s The Cost of Every Man as a commute album, but I know it well enough that I feel comfort when I listen to it.
Aren’t you glad I didn’t make any In Flames jokes?
The reason I decided to not mention In Flames as part of my melodeath discovery was because they have somewhat moved away from melodeath and have gone into some weird groove-death genre that no one can define. I am not going to dive into that discussion, so In Flames stays out of this list. Also, I am pretty sure the rest of my colleagues have their own opinions on In Flames, and I am going to let them talk about it.
Tune in next month as we discuss a tie in to melodeath, albeit with more dance-like aspects to it and why “Bye/Die” has remained my spite anthem for years.
Hasta la proxima!