Majesties – Vast Reaches Unclaimed Review

Conventional wisdom in the year 2023 dictates that nothing is certain except for death, taxes and current bands looking to the 90s for inspiration. It makes sense. Musicians currently in their 30s and early 40s are at the height of their powers, and when they engage in nostalgiacore, their sights are squarely set on those formative years at the end of the last millennium. The mad lads behind such celebrated Twin Cities, Minnesota bands as Inexorum, Obsequiae and Antiverse are not immune to this impulse. Tanner Anderson, Carl Skildum and Matthew Kirkwood unofficially formed Majesties in 2016 with melodic death metal in mind and Gothenburg, Sweden in their hearts. It wasn’t until 2022, however, that their debut album, Vast Reaches Unclaimed, coalesced to present a classic conundrum for conscientious music reviewers: how do we talk about a really good pastiche?

Majesties loudly and proudly plant their flag in the pre-Slaughter of the Soul Gothenburg sound, channeling first and foremost prime In Flames, and to a slightly lesser degree, early Dark Tranquility. Their Maiden-esque guitar harmonies are indeed majestic, nailing that sweet 90’s guitar tone through slick production that also features thunderous drums and scorching vocals by Anderson, all in a well balanced mix. Subtle synths appear here and there, tastefully employed as they are on the back half of late standout “Temporal Anchor.” When it comes to overtly melodic extreme metal, there are generally two types. One is triumphant, and the other is mournful. Vast Reaches Unclaimed is bursting at the seems with the former, with a gas-to-the-floor approach that doesn’t let up for the trim 39 minute runtime.

Anyone familiar with Majesties’ members through other projects can tell you they’re each top notch musicians, and this technical skill combined with a live-wire energy that’s frankly hard to capture on record results in thrilling moments throughout the album. Blazing opener “In Yearning, Alive” sets a pace that never relents, with swirling melodies and smooth transitions. By the time classical acoustic picking brings the energy down for a breather at the end of “Our Gracious Captors,” it’s hard to believe you’ve just burned through three songs in what seems like a minute. There isn’t much time to reflect, as a towering riff with a honey-tinged guitar tone starts “Verdant Paths to Radiance” before plunging the listener back into the melee. The guitar interplay between Anderson and Skildum is a clear highlight on Vast Reaches Unclaimed, but Anderson’s acidic, desperate vocals do some heavy lifting when it comes to the record’s palpable sense of urgency. The Gothenburg scene had notably higher pitched vocalists than other death metal of the time, and Anderson fits the bill, reaching a different level of intensity thanks to his black metal background.

When trying to frame my main critique of Majesties, I kept coming back to another band I’ve reviewed a couple of times. Kvaen bears strong similarities to this material, as that is also a wink-and-nod throwback project with scorching songs and ear worm melodies. I’ve twice awarded them a 4.0, but I have a confession. Each time, I cooled on the album as time wore on. Consider this a Contrite Metal Guy entry, as I believe I overrated both due to the excitement of hearing well-worn aesthetics sounding fresh again. I see Majesties in the same light. This is fun, fiery music that goes down smooth, but it’s very concerned with sounding right and wearing its influences on its sleeve. There’s an exciting moment late on Vast Reaches Unclaimed in the form of “Temporal Anchor,” where the black metal background of all involved just tips the balance away from pastiche and into something else. It makes me think that if they could just let it all hang out, they could beat a band like personal favorite Stortregn at their own game of multi-genre melodic mayhem.

I fully expect Majesties to rake in some accolades, and I can’t argue they won’t be deserved. Their furious take on the Gothenburg 90s sound is powerful. This is metal comfort food. I’ll enjoy the hell out of it any time I think to spin it, but I already know it won’t stand out to me in the same way other albums pushing into new, more idiosyncratic territory will. Still, it’s another impressive effort from core members of the Minneapolis scene I’m proud to call mine.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Websites: Too cool
Releases Worldwide: March 3rd, 2023

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