Look past the front pages, beyond the newest Kalmah or Omnium Gatherum, but to the fringes. What do you see? Melodeath, by inch and by foot, grows longer by the year. This lengthwise legacy has nascent foundations as far back as Crimson before acts like Insomnium and Be’lakor (for better) and Wintersun (or worse) exposed that phenomenon to the masses. The most impressive returns rely not on track listings overstuffed with a dozen taut melobangers but long-form songs pushing the boundaries of melodeath’s expectation. Sacrificed Alliance assume this mantle. Their progressive melodeath restrains itself from swallowing the sun, moon, and stars, and in so doing, second attempt Withdrawn handily bests every other record I’ve heard this year.
Opener “Spiritual Enlightenment” failed to wow me so thoroughly that I forgot I’d previously heard it as a single when receiving the promo. Fretless bass aside — though it’s a major plus — the track felt longer than its run listing in a bad way. But like the best experiences I’ve had this year,1 the longer tracks shoulder the load. I’ve floated through a cosmos of Wintersun-turned-Obscura on “Void Eternal,” worshiped Æther Realm on “Nébuleuse,” and dozed in Wilderun‘s garden on “Verdancy” far more readily than I’ve visited the record’s shorter spins. Most shorties do improve on the opener, but they are mere aperitifs before the meat. It’s a rare record that can meld Wintersun‘s symphonic layering, Æther Realm‘s flourish and pomp, and Inferi‘s monolithic construction, and come out sounding so unlike all of them as to prevent me from declaring Sacrificed Alliance the new [Insert Clickbait Band Here]. Those namedrops may be tasty — I see you, taint-tickler, skimming past everything but the bold text — but they are not part and parcel to Sacrificed Alliance‘s identity. Inferi is the closest comp, but only in the sense that Withdrawn‘s massive construction develops at its own pace and no one else’s. Occasionally blackened, littered with tech death tidbits, and built upon a core just as often progressive as melodic, Withdrawn is its own beast.
You may think, “Hey Rocky Mountain Oyster Show, this album is only 55 minutes long. Shylmagoghnar‘s release was longer.2 So was Tarot!” Yes, but Transcience loses steam and Æther Realm could cut twenty minutes and achieve the same effect. Withdrawn does more with less. It leaves a grand impression without overwhelming, the result of nuanced progressions and ever-shifting construction that require multiple listens to parse. Inferi again come to mind, especially given this album’s flaws. The same definitive lack of high points that plagued Revenant prevents Withdrawn from stomping its competitors into two months of catheters and a strict no-solids diet. The elements required to stand among giants — transcendent melodies, stand-out choruses, unforgettable moments — kneel before the totalitarian construction. Truthfully though, I find myself less aggrieved by this omission than I might have a few years ago; the uncurving, decades-long line between the scene’s progenitors and modern-day imitation gets old, even for this hack. Sacrificing immediate familiarity for ambition is a trade I will take. Still, those few traces that exist organically, be they the bouncy djent of “Void Eternal” or the comforting and familiar “Impending Salvation,” are greatly appreciated.
Aeternam guitarist Maxime Legault stars on his fretless bass, and honestly “stars” may be an understatement. His crossover experience on the guitar aids in shining up a gorgeous performance usually reserved for the tech death crowd. This isn’t just some trinket, an oddity featured for one solo and then packed away. It is alive within the music, dodging between layers and occasionally taking the riffs into its own hands. Likewise, Sacrificed Alliance‘s ambient aspects are integral, whether relaxed interlude or active participant. It speaks to their quality that they remind me of Wilderun so heavily that, if I hadn’t heard otherwise, I might wonder if they worked the Bostonians in some way.
That some of the leads on the shorter tracks grate a bit or the vocals could use some range can be overlooked. Sacrificed Alliance has room to grow, nothing more. Where would the fun be if the Quebecois were so complete that they left nowhere to go but down? Their performances are stellar, their execution lives up to their concept, and Withdrawn‘s length is not only a boon, it further tilts melodeath into an exciting progressive renaissance. Sacrificed Alliance see the field before them, and they would be kings. With some work, they will be kings.