Maelstrom – Of Gods and Men Review

Maelstrom is a pretty popular handle, but the one we are looking at today has quite a bit of history. Formed in 1988 in West Hempstead, New York,1 they share their birth year with Iced Earth2 as well as yours truly. The Iced Earth part is more important, as Maelstrom released a few demos in a similar style, mixing thrash and power metal with a symphonic flair before dropping off the face of the planet. In the late 00’s, they resurfaced, releasing a single 3 track EP before vanishing once more. Over a decade has gone by, and like Pennywise the Clown, Maelstrom strike again, finally self-releasing their debut album 3 decades in the making. Was it worth the wait, or is third time the harm?

Well folks, looks like I am gonna have to be the bad guy today. Perhaps the introductory story of a self-released symphonic debut of a 32 year old band coupled with the particle cataclysm of a cover was enough to tip you off, but long story short, Of Gods and Men is pretty much a disaster on all fronts, and the most important reason why becomes obvious quickly. After a minute of escalating symphony, everything happens at once. Multiple types of vocals, scattershot drumming, several different thrashy riffs in rapid succession and a sample of an explosion all fight for attention, and the result is an utter cacophony. This pattern of headache-inducing melting pot overcrowding separated by calmer waters that are just as poorly executed continues over the exhausting course of 72(!) minutes of music.

It’s the sort of record that makes you wonder exactly with what kind of process it was made. On the one hand, while 3 decades of fine-tuning sounds like it should produce a pitch-perfect album, we know that this isn’t always the case (see also: Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem Forever). So this might be the story here; a darling that should have been killed, a pet project that got way out of hand. But on the other hand, everything sounds so slapdash it does not feel like it’s been fine-tuned at all. Rather, it leaves the impression of an extended jam session that was recorded, rehearsed just a couple of times, decked out with orchestral bits and bobs, and committed to tape unedited.

I emphasize the minimal rehearsal because aside from the broken pile of kitchen sinks that is the songwriting, the execution is largely awful. A few solos hit the mark, but most are just string-bending exercises. The drums try to make up for lack of precision in timing with busywork. The riffs, on the other hand, are the album’s best feature when they don’t get buried in the avalanche of bad choices, and occasionally some truly quality examples pop up among the material, seemingly by accident. “The Mirror Calls” is a breeding ground for these, containing enough energy to momentarily make you forget about the vocal shenanigans. Not for long, though, because the vocalist is an iconic example of why some bands need the firm hand of a producer. His gnawing, teeth-grinding performance is hammed up more than Nicolas Cage in a horror movie and never fails to inspire uncomfortable chuckles as his cringeworthy, a-technical over-enthusiasm dissolves into a parody of a constipation advertisement. Add to this the production of a brick wall held together with strings and you have an album that simply cannot be saved from itself.

Thus, I am the bad guy today. Because the first big thing any band wants to do when they form is to release a full-fledged album. Some bands do that in their first year. Others spend ages on demos and EPs before taking that big leap. Maelstrom may not have been active for 32 years, but you bet your bottom dollar they’ve been dreaming of this moment for 32 years, three decades of trying and performing and hiatuses. This dream has been alive and well as long as I have. And now that it finally sees the light of day, I stride forth like a soulless executioner and cut the dream to ribbons before the mucus on its wings has even dried. I smother it in its crib with a heavy heart, because I am honor-bound to honesty. Of Gods and Men shows occasional glimpses of good musicianship, but there is no salvaging the terrible vocals, ramshackle production or the absolute shitstorm that is the songwriting on this gargoyle behemoth.

Rating: 1.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 22nd, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Strong Island, yo! – Steel
  2. Technically Iced Earth was around longer but they didn’t go under that moniker until 1988.
« »