There’s a special little subcategory of my year-end list this year that I’m tentatively dubbing “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Finnish!” With much of that country’s melodeath old guard either disbanded, commercialized, or in an ongoing slump, it makes sense that other countries are picking up the slack. And one of the finest examples of the faux-Finn sound you’ll hear this year comes straight from Japan. Not content to let Whispered hog the limelight of melodeath tinged with elements of traditional far East music, Serenity in Murder let loose their third album, The Eclipse, this year. Bombastic, colorfully melodic, and relentlessly fast, it’s an excellent encapsulation of everything the Finnish melodeath scene stands for; and, since most Japanese acts are seemingly incapable of marketing their shit outside of their region, it’s likely you indeed missed it.
More than Bodom or Kalmah, SiM reminds of Sweden’s Skyfire, another band carrying on the torch of the Finnodeath sound. Like Skyfire, SiM embellishes its compositions with conventionally beautiful piano flourishes and a power metal-like ear for melody that makes The Eclipse a downright majestic experience, and at a mere 40 minutes (34 if, like me, you skip the symphonic interludes), it’s a refreshingly concise one at that. Aside from these lulls, instant gratification is the name of the game, and tracks rarely take more than a few seconds to kick into full throttle with a barrage of blistering staccato riffs and quick-fire drum performances. It holds attention like carpenter’s glue as well, partially thanks to a well-spaced tracklist that musters a respectable amount of song to song variety.
This variety is what, for me, pushes The Eclipse into the realm of greatness. Just as the listener grows acclimated to the album’s introductory salvo of solid yet standard melodeath numbers, “Dancing Flames” flips the script with a bizarre yet addictive pairing of bludgeoning d-beats and breathtaking piano lines. My pick of the album immediately follows with “The Sea Is…,” an almost-ballad which soars to emotional, satisfying melodic peaks while sneaking in a few welcome accelerations of quick-picked speed. The final proper track, “Land of the Rising Sun,” is an excellent closer, accented with elements of traditional Japanese music and the kind of pulse-quickening melodic bombast that defined Sagas-era Equilibrium. Equilibrium‘s footprint is all over this thing as evident in its symphonic arrangements, and with Sagas being one of my all-time favorites, I couldn’t be happier.
The only flaw pervasive enough to transcend nitpicking status is The Eclipse‘s horrendous mastering. In true Japanese metal fashion, every element of the mix feels like it’s fighting for a loudness award; sure, this isn’t a particularly subtle record, but there’s no excuse for excessive volume to the point of muddiness. Yet the combination of major production annoyances and minor gripes, such as lack of vocal variety and slightly underwhelming guitar arrangements, barely detract from Serenity in Murder’s incredible fun factor. This is one of the most addictive records I’ve heard this year, and if I had my way, there would be more melodeath albums in the world that embraced the style with such a lush and vibrant approach. It won’t beat out Æther Realm for best melodeath of the year, but it should be a list maker for genre fans all the same.
Tracks to check out: “Dancing Flames,” “The Sea Is…,” and “Land of the Rising Sun”