I seriously enjoy reviewing, I don’t consider it an onerous job, to me, it’s a hobby and I garner a lot of enjoyment whilst composing my reviews and, another bonus, I get to listen to a lot of great music. It’s a win, win situation as far as I’m concerned. Relatively new to the job, I am no grey haired and grizzled veteran with many years of reviewing service behind me but, in such a short time, I have picked up quite a few hints and tips and generalisations and have used these to help me, hopefully, write more informed and interesting reviews. One, major, mantra I follow is to not make my mind up about an album after one listen, whether my thoughts are positive or negative about the record in question, it takes at least half a dozen plays before I have figured out every nuance and checked in every metaphorical nook and cranny to my satisfaction. Another salient point is that, whilst the release in hand is from a genre of music that may not be one of my favourites, it does not necessarily make it a bad record. You have to be fairly open-minded when it comes to the music that drops into your inbox, it is not healthy to just review everything you know you will like and give them all high scores. I must admit that, there have been quite a few albums from the progressive metal and straightforward metal genres that I would not, normally, listen to and have thoroughly enjoyed. Could the debut release from Norwegian prog-metallers, Mindtech, fall into that category? I sat down with a pot of coffee to give it my usual multi-play listening experience to find out, you can read my conclusions here, after the customary history lesson.
Formally known as Beyond Flames, Mindtech have had a long and painful gestation. Mindtech were formed in 2007, a gathering of some of Norway’s premier musicians but, how they got there is a convoluted story that starts in 1989 with the formation of thrash metal band Tritonus. This first iteration was short lived and the band went through many line-up changes, had two tracks featured on a Norwegian progressive metal band’s sampler and almost made a record deal with a German label, unfortunately, things just didn’t work out. In 2005 ex Tritonus guitarist, Thor-Axel Eriksen decided to ask ex Tritonus band mates Ole Devold and Oystein Moe to collaborate on his new project, once they agreed, the seeds for Beyond Flames and then Mindtech were sown. Thor-Axel then started writing songs that were 4-5 minutes long, brutal riffs but with great melodies. He wanted to move away from the show off attitude that some progressive metal acts affect and the most important thing was to write great songs and, secondary, a great album. The songs appear diverse with one central, lyrical, theme, warfare. The line up on Elements of Warfare consists of Thor-Axel on guitar, Aslak J. Johnsen on lead vocal, Ole Devold on drums and further heavy guitars provided by Marius G. Belseth. Andromeda’s Linus Abrahamson is the seriously good guest bassist whilst keyboard duties are taken care of by Lasse Finbraten of Circus Maximus fame. Guest female vocalists are Linda Kvam (lead vocals on Sons of God) and Anette Uvaas Gulbrandsen (Backing vocals on Resistance).
I have often said that, to stand out in a congested arena of great music, you must offer something different from the norm and, whilst Elements of Warfare didn’t instantly stand out as a beacon of light in the darkness, on first listen, there is enough on offer to make you want to delve deeper into the music laid bare before you. From the press release we are promised heavy and groovy riffs, melodic vocals and bombastic choruses but the one thing that hits you full in the solar plexus and fair well knocks you over is the seriously brutal nature of the aforementioned riffs, in places the guitar has a thrash heavy feel, monstrous and definitely dark and dangerous. The album’s opening 3 tracks, Lords of War, Absolution and Enemy Within are cases in point, thunderous riffs and pumping drums along with hard, harsh and heavy vocals all combine to give a bruising and brutal feel to the music, what sets this apart though, are the great, bombastic and melodic choruses which provide a nice counterpoint to the dark and brooding music. Monumental eruptions of twin guitar coolness and the odd blast of keyboards also break above the melancholy waves. The vocals, whilst never straying into thrash territory, have a savage honesty to them and compliment the gruff feel of the music perfectly. This headlong blast of bombastic heaviness takes a sudden 90 degree turn into the brilliant No Solution, more power metal than prog, Johnsen proving he has a voice suited to more than one genre, very melodic. A belting twin guitar solo and another foray from the expert keyboards lift this track above the darker, more menacing feel of the previous songs on the album. Lost Cause and Transparent take us back to more of what we got at the start of the album, a seriously huge wall of industrial metal, bad to the bone. Again, Johnsen’s vocals are properly suited the style of music, this guy has serious variation to his singing skills. The thumping drums and keyboards add to more of that first rate guitar work, including a couple of tidy, twin guitar, solos, you can feel these guys are really getting into the swing of things now, the grandiose choruses a case in point.
Salvation is a nice, acoustic led, interlude, only short but, one thing it does do, is let you get your breath back after the pummelling previously received. Sons of God takes the vast, huge and towering feel of the previous tracks on the album and turns them up a notch to give the song a serious anthemic feel to it, the introduction of the beautiful voice of Linda Kvam to take over the lead vocals is a quality touch. This song is, without doubt, the highlight of the album, everything, the power drumming, crushing riffs and lush keyboards, coming together in bombastic metal harmony. Back to the day job for My Crusade, that heavy guitar note combined with the vicious vocal and class drumming all present and correct, add one more suitably catchy chorus and it’s much the same as what has majorly gone before. We come to the end of what has been and enjoyable foray into Mindtech’s debut with another slab of seriously commanding metal with final track Resistance, the temptation to call it more of the same is blown out of the water by the addition of the luscious operatic backing vocals which give the song a nice twist and a variation from the similarity that appears in parts throughout the album.
What Mindtech have produced is a debut album that is happy to put its head over the parapet to be shot at and, in part, it succeeds in being different from the norm. Whilst there are some, superb stand out, moments and it never fails to impress, in the main, it is a solid, impressive debut that also leaves some room for improvement in the future. I predict big things for this band and, if you want to be in at the start, I suggest you go out and buy this album.