a2676998657_10Longtime metalheads probably remember Mithras as that English duo who, despite being signed to Candlelight and releasing three acclaimed records in the mid-00s, were largely lost in the Behemoth– and Nile-led death metal resurgence of that decade. Which is a damn shame, because works like the Mesopotamian pummeling of 2002 debut Forever Advancing… Legions and the ‘Morbid Angel in Space!’ vibe of 2003’s Worlds Beyond the Veil deserved far wider recognition than they got. Mainman Leon Macey’s performances were particularly astounding – the dude’s drumming was up there with Peter Sandoval in terms of speed and ability, and his sweeping guitar theatrics were a sight to behold. Sadly, the group became largely inactive after 2007’s excellent Beyond the Shadows Lie Madness, releasing only the two-song Time Never Lasts EP in 2011 and baring their influence on last year’s Sarpanitum record, for which Macey contributed drumming and production duties. Now, Mithras is finally back with fourth full-length On Strange Loops – an album reportedly six years in the making and probably the last with longtime vocalist/bassist Rayner Coss, who left the group earlier this year. Strap in, sit tight, and set phasers to ‘fuck yeah’ as we explore what’s likely to be the best death metal record of 2016.

Opener “Why Do We Live?” sets the spacey mood with buildup drumming and rapidly oscillating notes, before first proper track “When the Stars Align” explodes with a swift drumroll and blunt chords that hit like a goddamn gamma ray burst. The first 45 seconds alone showcase everything I love about Mithras: choppy Azagthoth-inspired riffing, hyperspeed yet wholly human drumming, and those chaotic star-grappling leads which sound like a particle storm being accelerated to light speed. Coss sounds equally fierce behind the mic, delivering lines about ‘converging galaxies’ with a bellowed shout that recalls a godlier version of Vader’s Peter Wiwczarek.

As intertwining choral melodies take over in the song’s second half, Loops’ true goal becomes clear: this is a comeback record that is concerned with neither progressing the band’s sound nor recreating past glories. Instead, Loops shows Macey doubling down on everything that’s always made Mithras great, resulting in the band’s strongest work yet. Early highlight “The Statue on the Island” showcases the tightened songwriting at play, with a repetitive circular melody that morphs and reforms throughout the track’s runtime, layered with faint backing choirs to boot. Likewise, the production sounds at once sharper, more forceful, and more spacious than previous works, despite a lower DR than my ears originally expected. Most prominent is Macey’s stellar guitar-work, examples of which are aplenty. “Odyssey’s End” begins with nebulous clean picking before rumbling on a delicious plasmatic groove, while “Between Scylla and Charybdis” evokes the feeling of being sucked down a black hole with its violently shrill main riff.

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The traits that really elevate Loops to the heavens, however, are the album’s concept and construction. As heard with “Howling of the Distant Spaces” and aforementioned “Scylla,” many tracks flow directly into one another, giving the record a cohesive urgency that’s offset by the band’s trademark celestial interludes. The end result is a 56 minute journey that can be both relentless and reflective, a work best consumed whole in its exploration of the concept of time and the purpose of human existence. After a set of monumental riffs and majestic leads in the closing title track, a series of fluttery notes mimic those in the album’s opener, before this overarching theme is looped together in the final verses with an echoed shout of ‘Why did we live?’ I’m tempted to answer that question with “because the new Mithras record wasn’t out yet.”

I’d be remiss in saying Loops is flawless – as Kronos described it so well at the AMG water cooler, Macey’s ‘blocky’ riffing style certainly doesn’t outshine his influences. But instead of out-riffing the innovators, Macey operates by doing the absolute best he can with his talents, fusing years of song-tweaking with raw improvisation to craft 12 tracks of the most warped and transcendent death metal 2016 has yet produced. Curious listeners and longtime fans are sure to love Loops, as is anyone with a Morbid Angel sweet tooth and a vinyl copy of Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. And for those who’ve been sleeping on the band up to now, consider this your fucking wake up call.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: facebook.com/mithrasuk | mithrasuk.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2016

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  • Frost15

    I did not know about this band, but I must say the embedded song definitely caught my attention. Really good stuff.

  • Jonny

    Bought from that linked track alone

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    I have been so damn excited for this album. Holy crap. Great review.

    Even though I prefer this band considerably to Trivium, nostalgia-bait has it that the real “Between Scylla And Charybdis” is still “Torn Between Scylla And Charybdis”. This embedded track is still damn awesome though.

  • Reese Burns

    Another great one for October!

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Wonder what’s gonna win AOTM…

      • Reese Burns

        The thing is, no matter what they pick, there’s gonna be a massive group that disagrees. Not because whatever album they pick will be bad, but because there’s almost two dozen options that are equally valid

        • Oscar Albretsen

          Pretty standard everytime someone makes any kind of list about the best or worst of anything.

        • sir_c

          it’s not bad to agree to disagree. I find the discussions about the lists pretty fruitful as long as the tone is set in a constructive way.

          So for me, I think a list is a starting point of a nice journey

      • JL

        Schammasch has to be up there for aoty

    • mtlman1990

      So how about that Avenged Sevenfold album. Just came out of nowhere and released there best album to date.

      • Reese Burns

        It’s a lot more progressive than I ever would have guessed it would be, I actually just picked up my physical copy a couple of hours ago! It’s definitely a year end contender for me.

        • mtlman1990

          I haven’t gave a dam about the band in years and they smacked me in the face out of nowhere

  • SegaGenitals

    Choppy. Crunchy. Angular. Geometric. Hate Eternal with more melodic sensibilities and a better drummer. (Yes I know Hannes Grossman toured with them last year)

    • Leon Macey

      I don’t think I’m as good as Hannes but thanks anyway :)

  • AndySynn

    I quite like this band.

    • “Quite”?
      I’m just glad Mark Z. rated this as excellent, otherwise I fear this would soon develop into an ugly teeth-gnashing quarrel.

  • Bart the Repairman

    I’m totally awake now. Thanks Mark.

  • Eli Valcik

    I bet AMG is in for a fun “conversation” when it comes to picking ROTM for October.

  • Diego Molero

    What a great year for Death Metal. Between this, Brutality and Mercyless I’m one happy metalhead.

  • All of their material is awesome. Have seen them live this summer, absolute killer, if you can catch their UK tour, do it!

    • WezzoTheWizzo

      Saw them at Damnation Festival and they destroyed the bands billed above them. Mithras are a force to be reckoned with. Macey is a beast on guitar and drums.

  • Dobbie03

    This was a surprise as I didn’t know that Mithras was working on a new album. Typically amazing stuff.

  • Wilhelm

    wow the DR4 is a bit of a turnoff but actually doesn’t sound that bad, the music sounds amazing.

    • Here’s Johnny

      screw the stupid DR rating!

  • Thatguy

    The definition of a great review – one I agree with. And I agree with this one.

  • Lou Daz

    On first listen, I wasn’t too impressed by Mithras. But this review persuaded me to give them another chance, and I like it a bit more now. Thanks.

  • jetblindracos

    I can’t stop listening to When the Stars Align and all the rest.The atmospherics are really beautiful.

  • Pessimistic Mithras Fan

    Found Mithras a few months ago & what a splendid find it proved to be. Delving into their older stuff & nobody sounds like them. Quite a feat in the modern metal scene.

    Everybody is going bonkers over Blood Incantation (admittedly Starspawn is pretty solid) & the whole ‘cavernous/dissonant/atmospheric’ death metal thing, I’m afraid this will get overlooked yet again.

    • Name’s Dalton

      Did no one like the new Revocation album? I’m a huge fan of the band, but I admit it took several spins before the record took hold of me. Now I think it’s outstanding.

      It’s on my AOTY, as is the new album from Dawn of Demise, this here Mithras LP, and the new Ulcerate.

      Records from Seputus, Zhrine, Embalmer, Departe, Dormant Ordeal, Vektor, Big Business, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Coma Cluster Void, Gomorrah, Rorcal, Mercyless, Desth Angel, Thoren, Colosso, Neurosis, Krater, Plebeian Grandstand, Sumac, Wormed, Inter Arma, Khemmis, Terr Tenebrosa, Chthe’ilist, not to mention the upcoming Dazzling Killmen reissue – holy fucking shit! What a year in metal!

  • dduuurrrr dddduuuurrrr

    I really think the DR4 makes the album unlistenable. Like Oranssi Pazuzu earlier this year, this band’s style of music really needs to breath. The small DR crushes out the nuance that keeps it from being truly amazing, and keeps it in the “just ok for a bit”

    • flashgordon

      Agreed. Can’t stand this compression, it’s like a food you can’t really feel what’s in the mix.

    • WezzoTheWizzo

      Strange then how I can pick out every ‘nuance’ of the recording and experience no listening fatigue whatsoever, even at very loud sound pressure levels.
      This thread really shows the limited benefit of the ‘DR meter’ and how obsessive ‘audiophiles’ can be…

  • Johan

    if there ever was a case to refute the claim that technical death metal lacks songs, this album is it. It was a long time since I last was this impressed by song crafting skills in metal. Last was Spawn of possessions Nocturno. Mithras knocked this one out of the park.

    • Leon Macey

      glad you like it Johan!

  • mtlman1990

    As much as I want to like this, I zone out every 30 seconds because of the mix

  • JL

    lol for once I actually agree with a review here. This is easily a 4.5/5 (which is a hard achievement) and it may usurp Schammasch for my album of the year.

  • AgonMcDuck

    I like how this has a Moebius strip on the cover. Totally sold.

  • herrschobel

    just wow ! that intro track just gave me goosebumps and made me want to swallow a whole planet for breakfast …

  • Hammersmith

    I’m having a hard time with this one, it’s clearly great, but the production on it is terrible. I had the same problem with the Sarpanitum album last year. It makes everything feel out of sync, or something, I can’t really describe it. Everything sounds like wood.

  • drug_genosh

    really wanted to love this and it should be right up my alley but cant get past the production and apparently im not the only one. Also, the vocals remind me of all that remains and kills it for me. Ill stick to blood incantation for this years “space-y death metal”

  • WezzoTheWizzo

    This album is pure brilliance. An album best consumed whole, just like albums used to be, with fantastic songwriting. The neighbours are getting really fed-up with this…
    Mithras are criminally under-rated and I can’t understand why they don’t have more followers. All four of their albums are well worth picking up IMO. If you crave a slightly more dynamic mix, I hear the vinyl has it’s own dedicated master, but personally I judge music with my ears, not with the DR meter.

  • I want to like this album, but the production is just blegh. Similar with Ulcerate for me.

    • Yup!

      • Dymanic

        As I stated on the Metal-Fi forum, I have emailed Leon from Mithras to release the dedicated vinyl master on their Bandcamp page, and he has agreed. Hopefully soon.

        • Dammit, I emailed the label but should have pressed harder. I also just bought the vinyl version yesterday in an attempt to digitize it. Now I’ll have to just buy the vinyl master.

          @AlexMetalFi:disqus, I gotta say, this album took a few listens to get to be tolerable for me, but I am in love with it now. Not the dynamics, but hopefully that vinyl master is a dramatic improvement.

          • Dymanic

            The latest word from Leon is that he is going to create a brand new master because he’s not happy with the vinyl master (because of the various tweaks he had to make to suit the medium, such as stereo monoing below a certain frequency, level changes etc).

            The new master will have almost no limiting and some other tweaks. Hopefully to be ready next week some time.

            He has previously stated, though, that the individual tracks have already been fairly compressed at the mixing stage. So I’m not sure how much more dynamic the new master will be. Wait and see.

          • Pacal

            Dang. Now I feel dumb for buying the vinyl.

          • Leon Macey

            Yeah it’s true, I’m doing a brand new master for the people on here who get teary and upset when they see a low number on their DR meters ;)

            Joshing aside, in all seriousness, a higher res digital version of the album was planned all along as a total counterpoint to the “normal” version, but it got left by the wayside at the end in the rush to finish the record and I figured it could wait till I had a bit of downtime and work out how it would be delivered (looks like bandcamp do 24bit audio so that will be sufficient.

            We licensed the vinyl rights to Willowtip so they have the exclusive right to sell the vinyl for this record, and I made a specific master for that. But that master isn’t what I’d consider a full range digital master – that master was done just to give the vinyl engineer something appropriate to work with to achieve a similar sound to the CD version, but a little more relaxed and roomy sounding, as people who buy vinyl generally like it to have a less in your face sound and be different to the CD, rather than the CD master chucked onto vinyl.

            So that master isn’t appropriate for a digital release as it’s got changes specific to vinyl, the bass is monoed under a certain frequency and there’s volume changes and edits to the tracks to make the work better on a low SN/R format like vinyl, which I don’t think are ideal really. That said the vinyl came out sounding excellent, the vinyl engineers at the plant did a great job.

            As someone stated above, the mix for our latest album is already compressed in individual groups before hitting the mastering chain, as we’re an extreme metal band with a great number of layers in our sound, not a jazz trio. So i’ll probably make the high res digital master available with the absolute minimum of limiting so it’s as markedly different as possible from the in your face CD version.

          • That’s awesome! Congrats on the stellar album, too, sir.

          • Dymanic

            Legend.

            Thanks for being so receptive and proactive to my (and others’) whining.

            Bear in mind it’s all only because we love the music – if we didn’t, you wouldn’t hear anything..!

          • Johan

            That’s great news to hear Leon, it makes me very happy that both the vinyl has a different master compared to the CD, and that there will be a dynamic master to download. . I’ll intend to buy both!

            I wish more artists/producers were as proactive as you and Swanö in this regard.

          • this is fine
            i am okay with the events that are unfolding currently

            (though seriously, the actual vinyl looks really cool so at least I have that?)

  • Willem Stander

    This is such a good record, it’s just a shame that the mix is so lifeless. Damn shame, like the last Presidential debate.

  • Richard Bendall

    This blew my mind completely. What a stellar (hah get it) release.

  • narrator

    DR: 4 it’s not a thing now. it sounds like a shit by the way. falluja 1 year before had 1 or more points down.

  • beurbs

    The guitars sound like they just went with whatever was the first loaded patch on Guitar Rig 5

  • Dudeguy Jones

    This is an incredible death metal album. Its where I want death metal to go for a little bit. I hope this sets a new bar for future bands to try and top.

  • Richard Bendall

    This is a top contender for AOTY for me currently. Never heard a band quite like them.

  • Dymanic

    This is awesome. I’ve just emailed the band to try and encourage them to release the more dynamic vinyl master in digital form, like Vainaja did with their last record. Join me!

  • This album has started to grow on me. But I really want the label to release that vinyl master separately. I do not want to get into vinyl, my crippling addiction to buying all my music in lossless format is already bad enough.

  • Which means?

    • Dymanic

      According to an email from Leon, “the vinyl version is more roomy and a bit more open sounding”.

      • Definitely seems like the way to go given the record is really a DR3! I am really bummed about this one and Ulcerate.

        • Dymanic

          Do you know if Ulcerate has a better sounding vinyl master? I am on a new “harass bands to digitally release vinyl masters” kick so maybe I’ll try them next…

          • Yes it does. It is a more “relaxed” master from what I was told by the band.

            I have to say that both are well beyond the pale.

    • Dymanic

      Jamie from Ulcerate replied to me, and is keen to release the vinyl master in digital form. He will be talking to Relapse about it next month (I hope that is a good thing)

      • Also I just learned there is going to be a high res, less limited version of this record soon.

        Btw thanks for being proactive. It sends a message. if everyone was as dedicated ad you we would have more dynamic metal in this world.

  • Bryan Barkman

    This album is killer. I feel like it loses the plot just a bit after the first four songs, but the rest is still very good, and those opening songs are some of the best I’ve ever heard. That morphing riff that comprises the last ~2 minutes of #4 – Part the Ways is perpetually stuck in my head. Shame Coss left the band, his booming bellows are excellent and much more difficult to replace than a standard growler.