Friday, February 12, 2016

Istidraj - Muerte Mundi Militia

The Singaporean band Istidraj offers up some solid black metal with a healthy peppering of thrash and heavy metal influences. It’s a rather conventional album overall (and their fourth full-length release over the span of fifteen years), but Muerte Mundi Militia has enough surprises to make the release one worth coming back to. Much like the current state of thrash metal as a whole, the bulk of the black/thrash movement suffers from some a serious problem: rehashing ideas that were better executed in the past. Istidraj however avoid this because the band doesn’t quite fit the bill as a straight black/thrash project, the mood has a more eclectic feel, and the thrash influences are incorporated in an interesting way. Bass fills, guitars trading off with one another, distinctive palm muted bridges - all happen as often as waves of tremolo picked notes do. In fact, if you were to switch out the vocals for cleans, you could easily call a lot of this music straight up heavy metal with black metal influences instead of the other way around.

It’s obvious pretty early on that the release is easily a notch above average. Even the moody intro is high-quality with its warbling pads and a sample discussing Pope Benedict, which then smartly seques into martial riffing that foreshadows the album’s mood. While aggressive, the band isn’t stupid about it because Istidraj is heavily focused on riffs. It works rather well, a lot of the riffs are fairly memorable, yet none of them in particular are showstoppers. This is reflective of how the album as a whole isn’t great, but it’s good in a very consistent way. The two exceptions to this consistency aren’t really deal-breakers either. The first is how “Via Negativa” overly relies on a rather boring four-part chord progression that doesn’t sit well with the band’s violent tendencies. The second quirk which reveals a lot about the band’s broad style, is the completely unexpected dubstep remix of “Lux Noir” that closes the album. While I can’t say the song is enjoyable, It’s still another obvious indicator that Istidraj isn’t just imitating other bands or trying to follow a preset style.

Despite how the band successfully melds black, thrash, and heavy metal, I still wish they’d delve more into the frenetic black/thrash side. Instead, Istidraj never really rhythmically thrashes us with those classic high-octane tremolo picked blasting bits we all know and love. Sure, it’s admirable that the band still manages a respectable amount of aggression, but the pacing is often too slow or relaxed. It’s disappointing because Istidraj maintains such a reliable sound while varying speed and intensity, so you know they are capable of really tearing things up. Putting the composition aside for a moment, Muerte Mundi Militia has a really strong mix that allows for everything aside from the vocals to really shine at some point or another. The raspy vocals however come across as a bit too dry and raw as if they were taken from a live recording. It’s a smidge too jarring given the polish put on everything else, which is a shame because the vocal performance is really genuine and powerful.

Black metal fans should definitely give Muerte Mundi Militia a listen. It’s a quality example of a straightforward album. It isn’t derivative, but still offers something that sets it apart from and above the countless forgettable works of music that inevitably fade away into mediocrity.

No comments: