Album Reviews

Myrath – Legacy

Ethnic styles of metal have always interested me, and Myrath caught my attention years ago after their second album, Desert Call, released.  Their style of blending their Tunisian heritage and musical roots into progressive metal brought something different and refreshing to the scene, especially since metal bands are not very prominent in the Arabic culture throughout North Africa and the Middle East.  The marriage of traditional Tunisian music and scales interspersed with occasional Arabic lyrics with the melodic and orchestral tendencies of symphonic and melodic metal made for a very interesting mixture that they have termed “Oriental Metal.”  This different ethnic style paired with strong songwriting has gained them popularity around the globe within the last decade.  Already they are releasing their fourth studio album entitled Legacy, anticipated with baited breath by their fans after 5 years from their last release, Tales of the Sands.  Is it worth the wait?  A tour through the following twelve tracks they have to offer will give us the answer to that question.  Featuring members Zaher Zorgati (vocals), Elyes Bouchoucha (keyboards, orchestrations), Malek Ben Arbia (guitars), Anis Jouini (bass), and Morgan Berthet (drums), they put forth another energetic effort on their next release.

The opening track, Jasmin, is the cinematic opener of all openers that more than sets the stage for the album and pulls the listener in right away.  Starting off with a ney solo over a keyboard drone, the Middle Eastern flavor with bombastic percussion and strings introduces the album with an impressive piece that is reminiscent of a movie soundtrack with its sweeping arrangement.  It leads directly into the second track, Believer, without a break.  As can be seen below with their equally cinematic music video, this band opener to the album is an anthemic beginning that will hook you in immediately  It is a great selection for an opening track as the themes and orchestral compositional style merges into the introduction with the full band as well as the string accompaniment.  This song doesn’t let up from the start and goes through an energetic cycle of verse, bridge, and chorus, all of which have extremely catchy melodies.  After this is the first time the song drops intensity into the instrumental interlude with more ethnic motifs with only choral vocals, strings, and percussion in a glorious moment that embodies the culture yet then segues and includes the return of the band with a guitar solo that ushers in the bridge and chorus yet again with even more layered vocal harmonies and countermelodies.  The song ends with the band fading out on the last chord of the chorus while the piano continues the theme as it fades out.

The third track, Get Your Freedom Back, starts off with a guitar-driven and groove-laden introduction with string accompaniment.  The instrumentation reduces as the introduction of the first verse comes in, but comes in full force as verse two/bridge ensues.  The chorus continues with strings and choral vocals in the background – which actually give the song a bit of a Kamelot vibe – while the vocals soar with an upbeat and anthemic melody and the groove is deeply laid by drums and bass.  After the chorus finishes, there is a short instrumental interlude that differs from most metal songs – as well as those of Myrath’s – where there is an extended bass solo that is featured – augmented by drums only – with a slap and pop funk and groove style that though different, works very well in the song.  There is no guitar soloing in this song – having left it up to the bass in this instance – and the funk groove really plays into the catchiness of this song.  Continuing into the third verse the rest of the band returns at full force followed by two bridges that are more suspended and include more futuristic-sound programming included for an interesting yet effective juxtapositioning.  It closes out with the grooving chorus and ends at just shy of four minutes, the shortest on the album (other than the opener leading into the first track).

Nobody’s Lives starts off with a strings-heavy introduction while the instrumentation lays back for the first verse, though the beat remains forward driving.  It continues to build into the second verse into the bridge after which the chorus comes in strongly and is sung entirely in Arabic, the second time to be featured in one of the songs, though much more prominently.  Roughly translated into English, the poignant chorus says “Not possible to forget, life is heaven and hell/And my life is in your hands/Leaving me in torment and woe/My night is lingering/Take this agony away…ah!”  Another channel briefly segues into the second round of verses three and four, bridge, and chorus, after which begins an atypical pseudo-instrumental interlude highlighted by an Arabic vocal cadenza, which begins more ethereally with just guitar accompaniment, but then in the second half, the instrumentation becomes more prominent with a strong beat and pinch harmonics starting to dominate the instrumental accompaniment.  After this is the guitar solo that features a strong but scale-laden melody, clearly showing Ben Arbia’s prowess.  The music then returns to another bridge and chorus before ending with simply a hauntingly played guitar outro.  (listen in the lyric video below)

The next track, however, starts off much differently with a militantly executed introduction with an entry that is reminiscent of machine gun fire with the guitar-bass-percussion attacks with a cinematic introduction with full orchestra with bombastic brass and fluttering woodwinds.  The band then comes in subsequently without the aforementioned orchestra with an in-your-face beat and siren-like and thrash-riffing guitars.  As The Needle continues into the first verse, the music subsides and focuses on the vocals with just light guitar, but continues to build into a groove-driven return of the instrumentation that keeps the song moving at a moderate pace with catchy verses and choruses.  The instrumental interlude kicks the gear up a notch, though there is not a change in tempo, the rhythm becomes more urgent as the guitar solo kicks in, followed by a strings soli in response.  The final chorus is reintroduced by the guitar as the song ends nearly as rhythmically as aggressive as the beginning.  This is a poignant yet honest song that deals with the reality of the drug culture among the youth as a way to escape the difficulties of life, though it may end up leading to an early, isolated death.

The sixth track, Through Your Eyes, deals with loss and the subsequent emotions moving forward in life.  It opens with string and percussion-heavy introduction.  Not exactly a ballad, it has a cinematic quality to it, with a more pronounced presence of the strings, keyboards samples & piano, choir background vocals, and groove-laden percussion rather than being as much of a guitar-driven song, though there is a prominent guitar solo during the instrumental interlude toward the end of the piece.  The piece has an upbeat feel to it overall, though the subject matter is emotional and reflective, focusing on the positives in dealing with personal loss of someone close.

The Unburnt is a song that pays homage to the character Daenerys Targaryen from The Game of Thrones, titled after one of her nicknames.  An animated song with an allegro tempo, it endeavors to take the listener for a ride.  The verses keep a brisk pace, while there is a sustaining of the tempo, like half-time, over the bridges and portions of the choruses.  This song has a stronger Middle Eastern flavor to it, particularly with the presence of the strings both in the background and more prominently in the instrumental sections.  There is a triumphant feel in the piece overall, with an empowering storyline recounting the life of The Unburnt.

The eighth track, I Want to Die, is the only piece on the album that is in 6/8, which makes it stand out from others on the tracklist.  The slow lilt of the waltz feel lends itself to the emotive aspects of the song as it recounts a broken relationship that wreaks emotional havoc on the one left behind. There is also a notable presence of the strings, especially throughout the introduction, underneath the vocals, and the instrumental segues.  The use of triplet quarter notes with the vocals and bass in the 6/8 time in the bridges also gives weight to the lyrics and a nice shift in the musical arrangement. During the solo interlude, there is a heartfelt guitar solo, but in general, the electric takes more of a backseat in this song, though it doesn’t feel like an inappropriate balance given the nature of the piece.

Duat is a third track on the album to feature Arabic within its lyrics, and it focuses on an Egyptian theme with many references to Egyptians deities like Anubis and Osiris as well as Egyptian words and concepts such as Ma’at (the goddess represented by the feather that weighs the balance of truth and one’s heart in the afterlife) as it relates a story of a person nearing death and anticipating entering the afterlife, with a hope of resurrection by Isis.  Named after the Egyptian realm of the dead, this song stands out among the tracklisting, with its interesting and multilayered aspects in the songwriting.  Firstly, it differs because it starts immediately with the vocals with no instrumental introduction, accompanied only by piano chords with arpeggiating guitar and strings as the background.  However, things shift with a percussive shift into the next segment along with a keyboard interlude into the second verse with a futuristic synth voice that makes it seem more sci-fi than ancient Egyptian, but still adds sonic interest to the song in a strange but effective juxtaposition.  The instrumental interlude to the song is strings-laden with 16th-note scale runs by the piano barely audible in the background, but contribute a notable classical addition to the piece.  Also present are large choir vocals that give the song an even greater epic feel with a slight melancholy tinge, as are the vocal lines throughout the piece.

The tenth track, Endure the Silence, starts off quite differently from the other tracks, with piano playing alone with an effect that makes it sound like an old phonograph, and the music itself sounds like something from the earlier 20th century in style like from an old player piano.  Then, segued by the drums, the band enters on the heels of this intro in full modern-day splendor with the pentatonic melody carried again primarily by the strings.  The verses still reflect both the old-time and modern styles and melodies in a very workable combination, but the choruses definitely favor the grooving Oriental style with lovely harmonies that make it an easy piece to pick up.  The song winds down and ends with the same style as the intro, with the phonographic piano playing the same motif with its staccato and legato chords and runs, though with some adlibbed vocals accompanying it.  Aside from being multi-layered musically, this song is also a powerful piece that brings attention to domestic violence and the complications fraught in those relationships.

Storm of Lies finishes out the tracklisting for the standard CD, and is an appropriate closer for the album.  It starts off only with guitar, but the band joins in soon after and lays the foundation for a very groove-laden piece, especially in the chorus and segues with the driving drums and basslines in tandem with the hi-hat off beats.  This is an energetic song that keeps your foot moving throughout, and even though the verses are slightly more laid back than the rest of the piece, the momentum isn’t lost.  The instrumental interlude with the guitar solo also doesn’t let up and has a combination of the groove beats as well as finely executed power-thrash 16th-32nd note rhythms heard at the beginning of the segment.  The strings are again included in the instrumentation, and add more of the Oriental flavor to the songs with the slides, turns, and mordents that are prolific in their lines, also paralleled by the vocals in style and the last track to reprise Arabic lyrics.

The bonus track, Other Side, is another welcome addition to this album.  Definitely not a throwaway piece, it is one to be sought out as part of the full tracklisting.  Starting off with an acoustic and electric guitar introduction, the moderately-tempoed piece has a strong bass presence in the verses with occasional chord strums along with the main melodic guitar riff with syncopated or off-beat rhythms found in the drums.  This piece also takes advantage of the lower vocal range, which gives a deeper emphasis to the music and gives room to build in the chorus.  The instrumental segment also differs where the keyboards take the first main solo in a music box-like bell tone, followed by a complementary guitar solo leading right into the bridge segue into the final chorus, and ending with the recurrent grooving guitar riff that is foundational to the song.

Though the album is entitled Legacy, it could almost be considered a self-titled album, since Myrath means “legacy” in Arabic.  This seems to speak to the fact that Myrath feels like they have come into their own and are confident to title the album after their name.  Now into their fourth studio album, it has become clear that each Myrath album just keeps getting better.  They have always had their own unique style that has made them stand out in the genre, but they don’t seem to rest on their laurels and assume that just because they have something different to offer that they can get by with mediocrity.  Each album seems to build upon the last one and explores new territory, showing the refinement of their skills and sound and the tightness the quintet has developed.  The music is high energy and groove-driven, and there are riffs and hooks galore in the instrumentation with exceedingly catchy vocal lines.  The lyrics cover the gamut of topics, and each song has its own style, where it is still very much in the Myrath vein, but they are not songs that are created by rote on an assembly line that sound all alike.  Each song stands on its own merit, and no track is exactly like its predecessor.

The production is really polished on this album, and not that the previous albums weren’t, but the sound of this album is very “mainstream” sounding in a good sense, with a sound that could easily compete with anything out there on the market. The cover artwork is a departure from their previous album covers.  Its starkness in comparison is simple yet elegant with its monochromatic burnt umber on white layout including the famed Hamsa design, with the Myrath logo incorporated into the symbol, which is intended to ward off evil.  It is present and popular throughout both Jewish and Arabic cultures, but originated in the area of modern-day Tunisia, and is a nod to the band’s home country and culture.

Musically, the members of Myrath are in top form.  Notably, there is a greater use of Zaher Zorgati‘s lower octave, which is really fantastic to hear and shows the range of his vocal prowess.  The vocal lines are very strong throughout the whole album.  They are catchy and yet are not one-dimensional in their multi-layered delivery, usually with an ethnic twist to them and a lot of improvisational descants.  Malek Ben Arbia‘s guitars are not as often in the forefront, but he definitely makes a presence with his articulate solos and solid rhythmic playing with solid riffs in every piece.  Anis Jouini‘s bass is very solid and he is sometimes afforded a few solos and highlights to show off some of his tricks, and makes a great rhythm team with drummer Morgan Berthet, whom I consider to be one of the best groove/pocket drummers I’ve heard in recent time.  And Elyes Bouchoucha‘s piano and keyboard contributions really add the finesse and diversity to the songs in a number of ways, as well as his other massive contribution (along with producer Kevin Codfert) with the strings orchestrations that are essential to the sound of Myrath and added significantly to each song’s arrangement.

Overall, there is not one weak piece on this album.  It is strong throughout and Myrath has managed to top their last album; their only challenge now is to maintain or exceed the high standard they have set for themselves.  This is a fantastic album from its epic cinematic start to grooving finish.  It is a great continuation for Myrath fans to enjoy thoroughly, and also would be a wonderful introduction to the band for new listeners. Legacy should not be missed in any progressive/ethnic/folk/Oriental/Middle Eastern metal fan’s collection, which I could easily recommend as a blind buy.  The 5-year wait for this album was definitely worth it, but I certainly hope they don’t wait that long for their next album, as Legacy leaves us hungering for more!

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