Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mysticum - Planet Satan

Comeback albums are generally tough to think about on their own merits; especially in a case like Mysticum’s  Planet Satan, the band’s first full-length release since the absolute classic In the Stream of Inferno from 18 years prior. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new release, or recoil against a changed identity like a child seeing its father without a beard for the first time. So, the inevitable question is: how does Planet Satan measure up against so many years of anticipation and such high expectations? Surprisingly well. While Planet Satan certainly doesn’t have the same impact as the band’s first full length, the music stays true to the band’s black industrial buzzsaw origins without being a lazy rehash.

To understand Planet Satan, a quicker primer on relativistic physics is helpful. When Mysticum traveled to Planet Satan and returned to Earth, 18 years may have passed for us, but for Mysticum it’s still sometime around 1996. Scientists call this time dilation, but musically it means that Mysticum preserved almost everything that made the band great. Planet Satan shows such strong fidelity to Mysticum’s roots that the band’s aggression seems completely uninfluenced by the past two decades. This makes sense, as some of the songs were apparently written many years ago.

Planet Satan is brimming with the classic black metal treble hiss and the kind of hyperspeed tremolo picking that makes even the phrase “wall of sound” seem inappropriate. For those uninitiated or suspicious, Mysticum’s use of a drum machine is entirely deliberate, calculated, and appropriate for the band’s industrial sound. The mechanical percussion melds into the band’s overall high frequencies (the bass even completely drops out briefly in “Far”), and the snare cracks like slabs of metal plummeting from the end of factory’s high-speed production line. Removing the human element from the percussion enhances the sense of speed because the flatter dynamics make it impossible to interpret anything as fatigue.  

Planet Satan is viciously irreverent. “All Must End” opens up with what may be a musette and has a bizarre synth-pop type interlude. “Far” incorporates a nice sonar ping effect.The varied vocals range from barked, to sounding like Tom Warrior (there’s even an “oooh” in there). Speaking of vocals, they are fairly uneven, but improve over the album. The higher pitched style works better, because of how it melts into the guitars and is strained with a complete disregard for long term health consequences, a la Wrath of the Tyrant era Ihsahn. On the lower-pitched side though, some signs of age seep into the delivery, despite the layering. The outlier, “Fist of Satan,” shows a punkier vocal style delivered with excellent passion - reminiscent of In the Streams of Inferno.

Sadly, the trip to Planet Satan has a crash-landing ending with “Dissolve into Impiety.” As you sit in the engine room of your spacecraft listening to the hum of your warp drive, or whatever, Planet Satan manifests its evil willpower by… possessing the 50-piece ratchet set in your toolbox and slowly turning each ratchet? In all seriousness it sounds like a bunch of ratchets. That, or half a dozen woodpeckers struggling to open walnuts on a smooth granite countertop. I have no idea what the band was thinking here, and while it is another example of how Mysticum marches to the beat of their own... walnut, it’s also pretty damn confusing. Still, it fits in with the band’s irreverence. While Planet Satan isn’t In the Streams of Inferno
it’s still a worthwhile album of pummeling industrial black metal with Mysticum’s characteristically charming eccentricities. 

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