Bearing witness to a band’s growing pains can reap great rewards for a fan as easily as it can bring uncomfortable disappointments. On one hand there is the pleasure in having known that band when they finally realize their potential, but on the other, there is the time invested in a group that just might never have it. Such is my relationship with Sweden’s Canopy, having listened to and rooted heartily for them since 2005’s Will and Perception EP. The talent and intent were there, and occasionally inspired songwriting showed its face as well, but they never seemed to put it all together into one package.
Well, it warms my heart a bit to say that Canopy is realizing their potential, and they are poised to avoid those uncomfortable frustrations for both their fans and themselves. Menhir shows the band as a focused, energized, more talented and more purposeful version of their earlier self. Where there was once a band constrained by their influences (heavily Edge of Sanitized), now there is a group of musicians comfortable in warping their muse through their own voice. The result is a punchy, dynamic, and slightly proggy take on melodic death metal that hearkens to the band’s previous influences while also bringing in bits of Damage Done-era Dark Tranquillity (minus the keys), a touch of Insomnium and a splash of groovy-but-technical thrash.
Things kick off with over eight minutes of Gothen-prog in the form of the massive title track, building gradually and subtly with ascending guitar lines over the first few minutes before slamming into a huge death metal groove whilst showing off some quality guttural vocals. (Real death metal vocals; no emphasis on annunciation here.) Throughout the song, the band shifts between the heft and more punctuated sections of airy riffs and prog sensibilities, displaying their dynamic abilities as well as some truly accomplished drumwork courtesy of skinsman Peter Lindqvist.
The rest of Menhir doesn’t attempt to match the scope of the first track, but it still brings its fair shake of instantly memorable guitar weavings (riffs of all styles), the occasional smattering of blast beats and, in general, just a lot of flat-out headbangin’ win. Deserving special note are several expertly-crafted and wholly-rockin’ solo sections, the fuckin’ infectious verse of “Earth Splits Into Fire,” tremolo-riffed balls-heaviness during “Inward Burst,” and the climax of “The Entire City.” The latter begins feeling a bit derivative, but through the employment of the band’s multi-layered guitar attack, it quickly erases any thoughts of musical larceny. There are still occasional moments when Canopy meanders slightly on a lesser idea, but these are so hidden between the neck-jerkery as to be easily forgivable.
If one complaint has to be made about Menhir, it is that outro “Zenith” seems to come too early. The brief 36-minute runtime combined with the lack of a true album finale may leave the listener wanting just a bit. Another extensive epic would certainly provide that extra push, but complaining about a lack of content when that which exists rules is largely a bullshit criticism. In truth, this is both a coming-of-age release for Canopy and a strikingly professional melodeath album in its own right, one that gets a hearty recommendation from this fan.