Mindscar get weirder the more you learn about them. Because it’s self-released and begins with a track called “I Am the Bad Man,” I initially expected What’s Beyond the Light to be a shaky debut conjured by a group of garage-dwelling teenagers who spend their days tapping out Schuldiner solos and blasting Toothgrinder in a Wendy’s parking lot. In reality, this Orlando trio formed way back in 1998, only to split up in 2002 after playing several gigs and releasing a self-titled EP in 2001. Their guitarist Matt Heafy would go on to fade into obscurity with a little-known band called Trivium, while the rest of the group reformed in 2012 to release debut Kill the King last year. Sophomore record What’s Beyond the Light sees guitarist/vocalist Richie Brown as the only original member left, joined by a recently enlisted drummer and bassist. Oh, and Florida Senatorial candidate Augustus Invictus (a man who allegedly sacrificed a goat and drank its blood after a cross-country pilgrimage in 2013 [Why vote for the LESSER evil? – Ed.]), who contributes a maniacal spoken word segment on fourth track “A Faceless Force that Must Die.” Brown also decides to one-up Nergal by using his own blood and semen for the artwork you see above. No, seriously.
So where does all this get us? The land of core-flavored death metal, apparently. In the same way Darkest Hour were essentially a DC hardcore band who replaced punk chords and beatdowns with thrashy At the Gates riffs, at heart Mindscar sound like an underground ’00s-metalcore act playing Florida death metal with a flourish of tech. Aforementioned opener “Bad Man” begins with a riff that evokes mid-period Death before Brown employs his raspy scream to full effect on a blunt-as-a-brick-wall breakdown (“I! AM! THE! BAD! MAN!”). The whirling closing solo begets follow-up “Headless,” which moves from the crawling dissonance of a fun-sized Ulcerate riff into a surprisingly proggy interlude, consisting of a wonky bassline and diminished clean picking.
While this style could very easily spiral into shit, Light is actually a surprisingly good record, bolstered by Brown’s dynamic guitars and lack of breakdowns after the opener. Early highlight “Buried beneath the Snow” is particularly impressive, supplementing its spitfire Black Dahlia melodies with a riff that deftly morphs sluggish Morbid Angel chords into a sugary technical sweep. Brown continues the acrobatics with his raw frenetic soloing throughout the record, and even invokes Dying Fetus with his wheedly-do licks on “Cerberus” and aforementioned “Faceless” (a bit too closely, in fact). Despite an unnecessary instrumental breakdown in its finale, “Megladon” also does a great job conveying the looming terror of its theme with chromatic, strained chugging.
At 30 minutes and 9 tracks, Mindscar keep things concise, and write songs that go down easy with a handful of riffs each. This does lead to my biggest issue: while moments like the fire-on-the-horizon clean picking and harmonized Gojira-esque singing of the closing title track are an interesting twist, I can’t help but wish the group had spread their wings more in the songwriting department. Solos seem to almost always come at the end of the tracks, and while the riffs are surprisingly high quality, I sometimes wish they developed themselves differently instead of always transitioning back to previously introduced ideas. Light’s second half also drags a bit. The sub-2 minute blasting of “Cerberus” isn’t enough of a rush between the slow chugging of “Megladon” and “When the Soul Dies,” even if both those tracks are solid in their own right.
While the DR is massive for the style and the production does a good job igniting the dry guitar tone, plump bass, and snappy drumming, I’m torn on the record’s brittle sound. It suits the style, but comes across a tad thin and isn’t particularly evocative. In the future, I’d love to hear the band sound more full-bodied, not to mention capitalize on their melodic death elements like those in “Buried beneath the Snow.” Still, the churning Anaal Nathrakh tremolos of “Faceless” hammer in Brown’s knack for succulent riffage, and I can’t think of many other bands that sound like Society’s Finest playing wholly competent death metal. Recommended for those who don’t mind some easily digestible extremity with a splash of -core to give it that zing. Not to mention the blood and semen.