In the mid-00’s, I was just starting to dip my toes into the realms of metal. Maybe it was just the entry point I had with Children of Bodom, but there were a slew of bands that were called melodic death metal, but like a Scooby Doo villain, turned out to be power metal with some harsh vocals, some of them adding some cues from Gothic metal to seem a little darker. Bands like Eternal Tears of Sorrow or Before the Dawn went over well with pubescent me, with their straightforward, Maidenesque guitar harmonies and gloomy veneer. Dying Embers fall in this category as well, being tagged melodic death metal, and instead molding bits of Gothic and growls onto a mid-paced power metal album with the unwieldy title Where Shadeless Dwell Frozen. Time to feel like a teenager again.
When it comes to faux-melodeath from the mid-naughts, though, you can do much worse than Dying Embers. A labor of love by Jürgen Schurz (of Unhallowed, Austria,) Shadeless is an album that pops with simple but effective hooks and a charming personality. Schurz handed over bass and drum duty to session musicians Stefan Traunmüller and Thomas Leitner respectively, the former producing as well, but everything else is Schurz himself, including the frequent triple guitar harmonies, such as the neat solo on opener “Pursue the Light.” The interplay between these layers of guitars works well, especially considering it’s just the one guy, weaving rhythmic chugs and catchy melodies throughout. The Gothic note largely stems from his vocals, sonorous and slightly nasal, like a cross between Ulf Theodor Schwadorf (The Vision Bleak) and Tobias Forge (Ghost) with a head cold.
Those vocals are one of the hardest things to love, though. Schurtz’s range is minimal and his delivery is as dynamic as asphalt, applying a husky tone that I associate with the male protagonist in cheap romance novels. His occasional growl is so airy it’s halfway to a whisper, doing nothing to dispel the “desperate housewives” vibe, and his very strong German accent is just icing on the cake—the lyric video is ideal to bring this point home. On top of that, Traunmüller’s production seems almost sycophantic towards Schultz, because the bass and drums got very little love there. The former especially is buried entirely, making the entire affair as trebly as second wave black metal.
What saves the album from being a disaster is its low-key charm. The hooks are plentiful and easy on the ear, possessing an appreciable immediacy, the best part of the album. Schurtz’s vocals have their flaws but they do have personality aplenty, with his husky timbre. And when the band lets the keyboard fly free, such as on “Beyond the Crimson Haze,” it adds just the right amount of cheese, especially with the almost romantic vocal delivery. The hammered keys on “Dead to the World” immediately remind me of the Pokémon theme song, and I can hardly think of a bigger endorsement. Maybe it’s the nostalgic factor, but for all its shortcomings, Shadeless does manage to make me smile.
Dying Embers‘ debut is not a very good album. The number of significant flaws is too high for that, from the unimpressive vocals to the almost bass-less production. Any more such flaws and I might have been forced to file it under truly bad. As it stands, it manages to make up for most of its flaws on sheer cheesy, nostalgic charm and a disarming earnestness. Shadeless is like an uncovered relic from the bottom bins of half my lifetime ago, and for that I commend it. But for anyone who didn’t get into metal through faux-melodeath some 15 years ago, you probably have better things to do.