Move over, female-fronted occult doom/rock, there’s a new old thing in town, and its name is obnoxious throwback NWOBHM (or should that be OTNWOBHM, then?). (Sidebar: the fact that Christian Mistress neatly evades both of these increasingly bandwagon-ish scenes should further convince the unconverted of exactly how much ass that band kicks, which is all of the ass.) But, ooh, look! This band here is from the mysterious and ancient land of Portugal! And they sing in Portuguese! What novelty! Granted, Midnight Priest has a pretty awesome name, and this cover art puts a silly smile on my face (and hopefully yours), but this debut album is a sloppy and mostly irritating display of slavish adherence to a musical paradigm whose imitators are almost never able to recapture the youthful exuberance of its originators.
The album starts with a spooky organ intro, and later features a sparse acoustic guitar interlude, but apart from that, Midnight Priest is all textbook NWOBHM, all the time. We’re talking about all the usual suspects: Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Diamond Head, et cetera, plus a fair dollop of Judas Priest and the darker shadings of Mercyful Fate. This means dual guitar passages, spirited, hooky choruses, plenty of tasty solos, and rudimentary drumming that easily approximates the echoing, distant drum production of the 1980s. All of that, though, is nothing more than a description of the basic genre template, and says piss-all about whether the songs work. Assuming you’ve already peeped the score at the top of the review, then it should be clear that, for the most part, they do not. Almost all of the songs plod along at the same monotonous mid-paced chug, which really drags things down where a bit of lightness would go far. The chorus to “Feitico Do Cabedal,” for example, needs a swift kick in the ass to get where it’s going on time, but I’m already too bored to offer my own boots for the job. The vocals are frankly irritating and sound like they would be much better suited for some politically-dodgy Eastern European folk metal. Moreover, the calculated precision with which these songs have been crafted to sound as though they’ve just now been uncovered in a time capsule buried in 1981 actually ends up making everything sound unfocused and sloppy.
And now, we interrupt your regularly-scheduled programming to bring you “Some Words About Tempo”: it’s fairly well documented that a crucial part of extreme metal’s development involved a competition for speed. Even before the development of grindcore’s relentless pursuit of face-smashing velocity, the thrill-seeking teenaged purveyors of thrash and nascent death metal were hell-bent on pushing fast for fucking fast’s sake. Thus, if you were to gather up all heavy metal from, say, 1970 until today, and calculate an average bpm/year, I feel pretty confident that you’d find a jagged but steadily upward-trending graph. (Except that eventually, spazzy grind and funeral doom would cancel each other out, but never mind…) The point of which is this: actual NWOBHM circa 1981 sounds like it’s being played with all the speed and urgency that the genre could muster at the time, while fake, smirking, throwback NWOBHM circa 2011, when played at the exact same tempi, sounds fucking awful. When Midnight Priest finally kicks things up a notch to ‘slightly fast’ on “Triunfo Do Aco,” my ire momentarily abates. So hey, do this more, maybe?
But here’s the overwhelming problem: I basically feel like I’m being winked at throughout the entirety of Midnight Priest. For example, I don’t speak a lick of Portuguese, but I’ll spend the rest of my life pouring port wine on my breakfast cereal and recanting any and all jokes I ever told equating Lisbon with lesbians if “Sabado Negro” isn’t Portuguese for “Black Sabbath.” Further proof: one of the guitarists goes by the nom de stupid Nasty Nightmare, while the bassist calls himself – wait for it – Murderface. Murderface. Goddamnit, I really don’t like being winked at that much. Thing is, I might be able to overlook all these superficial irritants if the music wasn’t a half-cooked puddle of tepid occultism and ruthless historical approximation. But as it is, if it’s not exactly a forgery, then it’s at least a shabby tracing.
Now maybe, in all fairness, I’m not the right person to judge this. After all, I lap up every single damn thing Striborg puts out like some kind of depraved and moronic seeker of mediocre outsider art. Maybe someone relentlessly driven to find anything sufficiently classic-sounding (read: musty) will hear in this album a gem of poser-slaying proportions – and to be honest, the entire time I spent listening to this album and writing up this review, I became a bit paranoid, thoroughly convinced that the second I finished trashing this debut, ol’ Uncle Fenriz would slap Midnight Priest up as his Band of the Week. But I’ve got more faith in Mr. Or Mrs. Driven To Find Anything Sufficiently Classic-Sounding (Read: Musty) than all that; after all, who should have a more finely-honed bullshit detector than someone fully immersed in a particular genre?
Two final thoughts: First, I enjoyed this album less each I played it through (not a particularly good omen for its longevity), and second, and more maddeningly, the opening to “Cidade Fantasma” is such a ridiculously blatant rip-off of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” that it drives me into fits of dark and terrible contemplation. You can sell me on a lot of things, from ironic bricolage to tracing and even forgery, but this is damn near outright theft. The past sells…but who’s buying?