Review Summary: Technical death metal with just as much brains as brawn.
Having an "outer space" theme dictate the sound of an album isn't uncommon in metal and its subgenres. For example, Rosetta's style of post metal is otherworldly in its portrayal of space. Ever since Wake/Lift, I had developed a bit of a soft spot for any kind of spacey sounding metal music. My research in other subgenres led me to thrash metal's Vektor and black metal's Darkspace. Even deathcore surprised me with The Contortionist. Each band differed completely in sound yet showcased space in its own unique style. Next, I dove into death metal hoping to find the subgenre's answer to my strange astrophilic quest. I was disappointed to come up empty handed.
It's critical to note that placing lyrics of planets and solar systems into songs isn't tantamount to imbuing an album with the feeling of being in space. The aforementioned bands simulated some aspect of space and based a part or all of their sound on it instead of simply alluding to astronomical themes in their lyrics. This is where my obstacle lay. Albums by Origin or The Faceless were meant to deal with the extraterrestrial, but in reality did so only on the cover art. The music was fast, intense and brutal. It was excellent music in its own right but definitely not what I was looking for. I couldn't close my eyes and feel the music carry me into the cosmos.
But perhaps technical death metal was never meant to be a conducive medium to deliver the kind of experience I was looking for. I reluctantly convinced myself that any band trying to merge spacey aesthetics with technical death metal was never going to deliver. Technical death metal's rocket ship was never going to materialize.
Boy, was I wrong.
"Beyond The Shadows Lies Darkness" delivers forty four minutes of a very unique style of technical death metal that proves that the genre can be used to describe space just as articulately as post metal or deathcore. Composed of just two members, Mithras produce a sound that seems like the opus of a far bigger musical ensemble.
The moment "To Fall from the Heavens" kicks in, the most important element of Mithras' identity becomes apparent: production. By some trick of delay or reverb, the soundscape of the album seems to "expand", somehow making the songs seem larger in effect. Against this background, every aspect of the music comes alive in this virtual vastness. Synth lines gain new hypnotic ability and Sam Bean's harrowing vocals seem to deliciously echo in the cavernous atmosphere; an effect I have fallen in love with. Drumming is standard death metal fare with a fair amount of blast beats thrown in. The guitar tone is also perfect for the meandering, progressive solos that shimmer in the radiant ambiance.
The guitar lines are instrumental in further advancing the astral feel of the songs. "To Fall From The Heavens", "Into Black Holes of Oblivion" and "To Where The Sun Never Leaves" feature some of the freshest death metal riffs I've heard in a while. The lead guitar solos are almost psychedelic and surprisingly fit into grand scheme of things. The frenzied guitar performances in the middle of "Awaken The Stone Man" and at the end of "Behind The Shadows" are a treat to listen to.Strictly ambient interludes like "When the Light Fades Away" and "The Beacon Beckons" fit well into the playlist and don't overstay their visit.
It wasn't until Ulcerate released "Everything Is Fire" did people realize that technical death metal could actually create cerebral music by paying attention to atmosphere and songwriting instead of simply riding on stale gimmicks of speed. It is indeed strange that "Beyond The Shadows Lies Darkness" which predated "Everything Is Fire" by a year hasn't been acclaimed just as much, given how similar the innovative principles held by both bands were. "Beyond The Shadows Lies Darkness" is the epitome of experimental death metal that holds Mithras in good stead for a successful future.
And yes, my rocket ship is finally here.