Burned in Effigy – Rex Mortem Review

Melodic death metal is a strange beast for me. It’s one of those genres that almost always sounds good on first listen, but once the novelty wears off, I rarely find myself enamored enough to hang around. I recently joked that Amon Amarth is the only melodeath band I actually like, and while that may not actually be true, the sentiment illustrates what I need in order to like an album of this particular genre. No thanks to sad-boi, contemplative versions of the style; I need riffs and aggression in my melodeath platters.1 Give me Dark Tranquillity’s Damage Done or The Black Dahlia Murder’s Nocturnal and keep your sprawling, meandering, and/or overly saccharine records. Because of this ambivalence that I have towards melodeath, I usually skip over promos that I see labeled as such. And for that reason, I’m glad that Rex Mortem, the debut record from Chicago-based melodic death metal outfit Burned in Effigy, was tagged as “neoclassical metal” in the bin. I probably would have skipped it otherwise.

If I have an ideal template for what melodic death metal should sound like, Burned in Effigy just about nails it. At eight tracks and 32 minutes, Rex Mortem sees the band efficiently and ruthlessly unleashing a barrage of guitar wizardry and vocal insanity that constantly walks the line between brutal and beautiful. There’s a strong The Black Dahlia Murder vibe, and when its combined with the neoclassical elements, I’m reminded a bit of Woe of Tyrants, a band that enjoyed a brief period of success back in the late aughts. Embedded single “Nightfall” is a perfect three-minute sampler—it will tell you everything you need to know about what Burned in Effigy is doing here. The beautiful classical guitar intro quickly gives way to chunky riffs and glorious melodic leads before the phenomenal vocals of Mark “Smedy” Smedbron arrive with a two-pronged attack, alternating between phlegmy growls and vicious shrieks.

It didn’t take long for Rex Mortem to hook me. Opening track “Doomsayer” begins with a flurry of heaviness before the intricate guitar work takes over, and the result is one of the finest melodic death metal tracks I’ve ever heard. The song sees Burned in Effigy brutally bludgeon us, impress us with neoclassical noodling, and bring us to the verge of tears with heartbreaking beauty—all in the span of three and a half minutes. I can’t overstate how amazing the guitar work is on this record. Although they both left the band shortly after recording Rex Mortem, Vito Bellino and Brad Dose absolutely dominate here, demonstrating a mastery of their chosen style that goes far beyond mimicry of the genre’s greats. Their performances just seem effortless and authentic, and I’m hoping that Burned in Effigy can follow up their success on Rex Mortem with their new guitar duo.

I kept waiting for the honeymoon period with Rex Mortem to eventually come to an end, but after nearly thirty spins, I like it even more than I did when I started. I kept waiting for the immediate deliciousness of the melodic bits and riffs to lose their flavor, but that never happened. I will say that the extremely cohesive first half of the record hits stronger when compared to a second-half that varies greatly in style—for example, final track “Vendetta” takes on an uncharacteristically upbeat character that feels a bit strange after the absolutely lethal attitude of most of the preceding tracks. But this disparity never kept me from repeating Rex Mortem multiple times in a row. The modern production allows the music to land with incredible power, and I see myself coming back to tracks like “Doomsayer,” “Artorias,” “Nightfall,” “The Empiricist,” and “Hades” often this year.

This may be a self-released debut album from a young band, but the level of professionalism and genre fluency on display here is mind-blowing. Burned in Effigy have a killer melodeath sound, and I hope that they will take their neoclassical side even farther in the future. Its front-loaded nature may have kept me from giving Rex Mortem an elite score, but I think fans of aggressive melodeath and neoclassical metal alike will feel the burn.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-release
Websites: burnedineffigy.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/burnedineffigyofficial
Releases Worldwide: January 28th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. You shut up! – Steel
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