There’s hardly anything that excites me more when discovering music than stumbling upon an unlikely and successful fusion of genres. I’m (mostly) not picky in regards to my taste for metal sub-genres, and when two or more of my favorites are effectively spliced together, I’m likely to remember the band in question for years to come. Yet as much as I’d love to hear an album that can pull off a mixture of doom, power, and traditional metal, with a side of thrash and accents of death and black metal without feeling overstuffed, I acknowledge that this desire is little more than a pipe dream. Except, oh wait, that exact album practically fell into my lap, and it’s actually really goddamned good. The band is Mahalkala, they come from Greece, their sophomore album is called The Second Fall, and it’s quite the meaty and satisfying offering. Let’s dig in.
Mahakala drafted many sub-genres in recording The Second Fall, but their approach is deceptively simple: take a big, ballsy power/traditional metal sound in the vein of Dream Evil, mash it up with huge ‘n’ heavy classic doom riffs and a general atmosphere of dread, and lace it with occasional spikes of extreme metal. This makes for a sound that’s far more cohesive than I would have ever expected, and when the band veers across genre lines, it always feels like a natural extension of their core sound rather than an aimless gimmick. And that’s the amazing thing about The Second Fall: no matter what unexpected turns Mahakala’s songs take or how many subgenres they stuff into a single track, it still establishes and maintains a singular identity, perpetually anchored by huge, drop-tuned power chords and a distinctly Ozzy Osbourne-like performance by vocalist Jim Kotsis. The album is totally unpretentious, and it fucking rocks.
The Second Fall is at its peak when Mahakala is at their most adventurous and experimental. “Redemption Denied” sees the band lurching from gargantuan, deathy doom riffs into a rocking groove metal tempo with a vocal performance that hints at glam rock; the final refrain of “Purgatorium” builds into a finale of exhilarating blast beats and blackened tremolo riffs; and “Better to Reign in Hell (Than Serve in Heaven”) cycles from creeping doom to power metal and then to thrash before coming full circle. These are all fantastic compositions, and the only thing preventing The Second Fall from being an excellent record front to back is its final two tracks. Though not bad songs by any measure, “Blessed Are the Dead” and “War Against Mankind” are somewhat underwhelming representations of Mahakala’s sound at its most basic, concluding TSF without any of the bombast or inventiveness that defines the rest of the album. It’s a shame because if these two tracks had been up to snuff with the rest of Mahakala’s material, this album could’ve been a shoo-in for my year-end list.
Don’t take this to mean that The Second Fall possesses no merit outside its experimental leanings. “Army of the Flies” and “Unholy Fight” follow a path as straightforward as the record’s closing numbers, yet these tracks excel through powerful and more complex vocal arrangements. The vocal hooks are a huge draw overall, but I wish the guitar riffs were always on the same level. John T.’s guitar work is always at least serviceable, but occasionally the riffs can sit in the background as window dressing to the vocals. This makes the choice to crank the guitars in the mix feel like a questionable decision at times; The Second Fall goes for a massive sound that’s more akin to a death metal production job than a doom or power metal one, but it doesn’t typically have the crushing instrumentation to match the relentless volume. Even so, I kind of like this sound as it’s unique to this sort of record, and it’s fun to blast as I’m barreling down the highway.
Mahakala is scraping right up against 4.0 territory with The Second Fall, and aside from some minor nitpicks, a couple of weaker tracks are all that’s stopping it from breaking through to indisputable greatness. Even so, this is a special and immensely enjoyable record likely to appeal to a wide audience. If you like your power metal heavy, your doom metal melodic, and your songwriting exploratory, I can’t recommend The Second Fall enough.