MEDEVIL – Mirror In The Darkness
RELEASE YEAR: 2023
BAND URL: https://medevil.bandcamp.com/
The Canadian progressive power thrash metaller’s debut Conductor Of Storms²⁰¹⁶ was already a fiercely original record although the influences were also quite easy to point out. I thought what made Medevil original was their approach to metal: they clearly loved it and were inspired by it but it wasn’t the base of their music. Instead, they took classic and progressive rock and then played it in a thrash or traditional metal and even death metal way resulting in something that didn’t sound like anyone else for too long. In my review I compared the album to While Heaven Wept’s Vast Oceans Lacrimose but today I also see a great Virtual IX Iron Maiden influence. In the end, Medevil 2016 sounded as if Ronnie James Dio’s Black Sabbath were torn from Dehumanizer and transported to the XXI Century where they learned some of the genres they would have inspired, if that makes any sense. While it worked for the debut, I knew Medevil, which name according to the band is a combination of Megadeth, Metallica and some clever play on words, had to evolve beyond that.
And evolve they did. Listening to the vastly more mature, longer, more powerful and more coherent follow up Mirror In The Darkness, Medevil still independent while still under the expert promotion wings of Jon Asher and Asher Media Relations, the album released on April 7th this year, a whopping 7 years after the debut due to COVID, sometimes I have a hard time recognizing the same band, but that’s actually a good thing, like a first time listening to Ride The Lightening knowing only Kill ‘Em All beforehand. What a difference in songwriting, production, coherence and catchiness! Liam Collingwood’s vocals are smoother, more melodic, still retaing much of that Dio meets Bobby Blitz on the way to Rob Halford’s house hosted by Budka Suflera’s Krzysztof Cugowski snarl but a better fit for the music which has aquired a lot of what made Tool, Lamb Of God and Nevermore great, and, clearly, too, bassist Eric Wesa’s backing and sometimes lead cleans have made it that much better than the often seemingly unfocused debut. Indeed, I didn’t want to mention that back in 2016 in my review but a careful reader could have detected a bit of a frustration with the debut due to it just being all over the place, wanting to cover a lot of ground all at once in which it resembled Opeth’s debut Orchid, indeed, good but not great. Yet unlike Opeth on Morningrise which was even crazier in progression, with Medevil, all of those flaws have been corrected on Mirror In The Darkness. If Conductor Of Storms read like Vast Oceans Lacrimose, Dehumanizer or Orchid, Mirrors is more Nevermore’s Dead Heart In A Dead World, Tool’s Ænima or Lamb Of God’s Sacrament or even Mastodon’s Blood Mountain and I predict will one day be mentioned in one breath with some of those albums.
The above references, while accurately describing the core sound of the new album by no means indicate the lack of thrash known from “An Empty Glass” or “Escape”. On the contrary, already the opening “Dead Before Birth” reeks of 90s Slayer (which hasn’t sounded this good in decades!), Exodus or Anthrax and so does, even if to a lesser degree, the Lamb Of God-ly and churus Nevermore-ic “Among Thieves” which introduces heavy synthesizer use to the band’s sound which spills over to the next track. The first single and the favorite track on the record, the lyrically cynical and sarcastic “Pray For Me” (with the chorus, somewhat evocative of a slower In Flames’ “Colony”, sung with a negation) is just what Maynard James Keenan (Tool) ordered, Wesa snapping his omniprescent powerful bass perhaps a bit too close to “Sober” in the verses but the double chorus is fiercely original, even if, reportedly, the vocals may be aquired taste to some. As for me, I would describe all 3 opening tracks as perfect and the strongest part of the record, but the magnifiscent Fish Marillion-ic heavyly orchestrated progressive title track and the closing melodeathly and Trivium-ish while heavily Mastodonic giant “No Peace In Rest” (over 9 minutes which borrows from the opener at its conclusion for continuity of a birth-death-rebirth cycle) are also in the same category, which leaves us with the remaining tracks at 5.5 and 5 level.
Two of those near perfections, “The Signal” (where I hear a heavy Ne Obliviscaris string influence) and “Weight Of The Crown” are really fantastic and varied revealing and undying affinity for Metallica and Megadeth, but they both lack that unspecified something that would place them at the very top, a better chorus, more melody, a stronger riff, perhaps, while the progressively rocking “Veiled” is a testimony to Medevil’s ability to create excellent tracks out of few basic elements while not afraid to experiment with pop, which reminds me of Evergrey’s “Departure”, all of which can and should be credited to the fantastic duo Brett Gibbs (rhythm, lead guitars) and Gary Cordsen (lead guitars) who go out of their way to create often very original while instant classic sounding riffs (that transition riff at 3:21 in “Dead Before Birth”) melodies (the chorus in “Dead Before Birth” so masterful it could make Dave Mustaine green with envy) and choruses (Among Thieves). It’s like these guys are taunting or provoking the Bay Area greats to “top that”!
Here I have to re-mention Eric Wesa who gave Medevil simply a new soul with his mighty bass as well as his and Brett’s expert production and mix. And as for his instrument, let me just say that, in comparing the great Steve DiGiorgio on Megadeth’s The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead! with Eric Wesa on Mirrors Eric runs circles all around the former and, in fact, sounds like he could have made that album a lot better sounding, all of which is not to say that I hated it but that I was severely disapointed with DiGiorgio’s performance. Not so with Wesa’s here who just seemingly came to chew gum and kick butt while fresh out of the former. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway, again) the man slays like no bassist in recent memory! And, finally, I can’t end this paragraph without mentioning the tragically departed from cancer drummer Chris Malcolmson (R.I.P. 2021) whom Mirrors is de facto a tribute to and whose presence is both deeply impactful and haunting on this album, which also alerts us to the fact that the material was probably fully composed back in 2021 but had to await post-pandemic release, while we ask: how will Medevil go about filling in his shoes?
Given as this is a 5.5 review, the flaws are, naturally, relatively minor and basically all about the track quality. “Gateway” is very good but just doesn’t quite soar like the opening 3 cuts or, perhaps I need to spend more than 5 revolutions with it? I know, though, that the instrumental “Smoke And Mirrors” is an unnecessary afterthought to “The Signal” and is not a convincing prelude to “Weight Of The Crown”. In that respect, the debut’s “In The Distance” was a more convincing instrumental.
More thrashy, darker, more groovy, slightly less progressive but vastly more modern sounding, more powerful and a lot catchier and occasionally more accesible, Medevil’s Mirror In The Darkness is just 0.4 point short of a classic and one of the best albums of the year, certainly a keeper on this hard drive for extended listening pleasure, and, mind you, this is barely their second full length! I recommend it to anyone who simply likes great heavy metal and enjoyed, say, latest Overkill (indeed, a worthy companion album) or Megadeth, you won’t be disappointed.