Melodic Death Metal is probably one of the most popular subgenres of metal. Prominent melodic death bands like Amon Amarth, In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Dethklok and Arch Enemy, who are all immensly popular, make it clear that it is a genre that is both commercially succesful and also a genre that many young people use as a gateway into the fiery depths of metal.
With a name like "Benalthel" and a demo titel like "Reach Towards the Sky" I didn't know what to expect. It might aswell have been atmospheric black metal or orchestral power metal. But what I got was some severely shredding instrumental melodic death metal.
Benalthel is a one man band from Sweden and as such features little more than ear raping guitars and gut pounding drums. But other than the very Dethklok-esque guitar work, and I mean that in a positive way, and the very complex drums I noticed the production. The production is incredibly boomy and muddy, rendering some of the deeper tones on the guitar almost inaudible. Fortunately most of the shreddin is audible and actually also pretty good. The first track contains some pretty solid, unusual and memorable riffs.
I'm making it sound like Reach Towards the Sky is nothing but fast paced shredding, but it is far more than that. As I mentioned above, the drums are very diverse and intricately programmed, giving the feeling that Benalthel used a lot of time on each song. A trap that many one man bands fall into is depthless songs of short length and little variation, but this debut demo has lenghty songs (the longest being 7 minutes and 13 seconds) with constantly changing song structures. The fact that the demo is instrumental can be both a pro and a con. While it can be tiresome to listen to nothing but guitar and drums all the time, vocals would also take away much of the focus from the impressive guitar and drum work. But if vocals were left out in order to create focus on the music, the production had better damn well be good enough! But the thing is, it isn't. The production is really bad and makes it hard to distinguish individual sounds and therefore makes it harder to enjoy the music.
Though production means a lot, flow means just as much, if not more. The three tracks on Reach Towards the Sky has incredible flow, both internally in each song and between the songs. All the tracks have the same feel, although they change alot in heaviness and amount of shredding.
While the demo sports a generally high level of detail and overall quality (expect production wise), the last track does have one element that feels alien. Choir. We all know it, that cheesy Casio-synthesizer choir chorus that reeks of the 80's. It can fit in in some types of music, but melodic death metal is not one of them. Another thing that seems weird. The last two song titles. "To Infinity" and "And Beyond". Does that sound familiar? That's because it's the catchphrase of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. Really? I mean, REALLY? It doesn't fit in at all, and it sounds to me like a joke.
Overall Benalthel's "Reach Towards the Sky" debut demo has some bad elements, namely the last two song titles and the horrendous production. This three track demo has enough good things about it to pull up to a 6/10 though. The lengthy, worked through tracks with memorable riffs and forcefully pounding drums are an absolute plus and makes me want to hear more from this band in the future.
1. Reach Towards the Sky
2. To Infinity