Sweden’s Meadows End1 has been pushing their symphonic metal wares on the world for over 20 years and across 3 full-length albums yet had surprisingly avoided coverage at this website thus far. Album four goes by the name of The Grand Antiquation (TGA) and features album artwork about which I am undecided: is it delightfully tacky or just tacky? Light / dark theme? Check. Angel / devil imagery? Check. Heaven / Hell setting? Check? Shotgun wielded in one hand Terminator-style? Check. It’s certainly eye-catching and perhaps an indicator of the unsubtle amalgamation of metal and classical housed within. But does it fall closer to Heaven or Hell?
TGA is superficially the archetype of symphonic extreme metal, with a Fleshgod Apocalypse death metal core and typical orchestral instrumentation. On closer examination it is particularly heavy on its faux-choir and string sections, and is actually closer to melodeath given its strong melodies and lesser reliance on technicality. In fact, there are passages throughout but notably on “The Insignificance of Man” that recall the melodic sequences of Æther Realm, notwithstanding that Tarot is much more exceptional and has a far more dynamic master.
The tracks boasting this similarity are more emotive and therefore tend to excel. “Storm of Perdition” takes a turn to the moody around its mid-point before shifting to a noodly but epic guitar solo and finishes with a surprisingly delicate guitar melody at the top of the mix in the heavy finale. “The Insignificance of Man” opens with pleasant female vocals and swells strongly in the ensuing passage with a tremolo-picked melody and pompous choirs; further, its elegant piano interlude tugs at the heart-strings. Finally, “Svept i sorgepläd” boasts particularly heroic guitar leads and some lovely, almost twinkling violins in its back half. These tracks are legitimately strong and indicate that these Swedes are more than capable of composing good music.
It’s therefore a shame that the integration of orchestral elements is generally unsophisticated and unadventurous. Choirs are overwhelmingly prevalent, hanging on to most passages through verses and choruses. These and the string instruments typically follow the guitars melodically and don’t offer much in the way of counter-point or harmonization. This lessens the impact of the choirs, strings and guitars as the heaviness of the latter is dampened and the former are made to sound less critical to the record’s sound. This criticism is highlighted by the stripped back verse on “Non-Dreaming Eye” which demonstrates that a backing choir is not required at all times for melodic, emotive impact. As a side note, the quality of the songs on half of TGA accentuates the average song-writing on the other half; it isn’t a consistently good record and I would point to “Devilution” and “Night’s Bane” as particular examples of the more banal tracks.
It’s a necessary evil of a symphonic extreme metal release that the mix is going to be very busy. Accommodating layers of traditional metal instrumentation alongside classical instruments, all being unsubtle, is quite a task. It’s therefore forgivable that the mix is fairly dense; it’s less forgivable to brick-wall the master as has been done here. A more dynamic master would assuage the density and difficulty in breaking down the layers. Meadows End are not unusual in this regard, as the likes of Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse similarly insist on limited dynamics but this is not an excuse. TGA has a weirdly chunky production on account of the loud master which robs the music of nuance and prohibits a more freely-flowing sound.
The sum is an album which peaks well but troughs at a fairly average level, with terrible mastering. In light of this I am unable to award more highly than a 2.5 but know that this 2.5 contains some very good material. Melodeath nerds2 and fans of weenie metal may glean more and a sharper successor would surely be a very good release.