Mithras. I mean, damn. Mithras. I heard Mithras years ago when this site was still MetalReview and even then thought “for all the familiarity of this music, this is something completely else.” So in my mind they are one of the true originators of the slow in design, fast in execution, musically lyrical as a result style of music I am just going to go ahead and refer to as “metal” because niche terms fail this band. Taking the Morbid Angel tremolo picking/kicking, slow-building riff style and adding some black and melodic death and anything else you want, Mithras is a niche destroyer, and On Strange Loops is a sound system destroyer.
The Opening track, “Why Do We Live?” sets you up for nothing that is about to follow, unless you know the band, in which case it sets you up perfectly. Opening with a series of clock-like tick-tocks, it is a slow, repeating series of chords with an almost mall metal feel, with Soundgarden-esque dueling riffs laid across it. The gruff vocals keep it grounded, though – but none of that matters as “When the Stars Align” crashes into your eardrums. Opening with a drum flourish, and few turns of a fantastically crushing riff, then come the building lyric chords, and you are either hooked or dead.
And that is what this record is about. We all love our riffs, and we all love our grooves and speed and dynamics and textures, but Mithras writes motherfucking SONGS. Like few who can blast this brutally, Mithras never ever does so at the expense of making an emotional connection to the listener via honest-to-Mithra beautiful metal songwriting. They give us all the other components, mind you, but these are truly deep and moving compositions into which all the right ingredients are poured. There is a timeless feeling to it that harkens the best Emperor and Gojira songs – not so much in style as in substance.
“The Statue on the Island” begins with a delicate-yet-metal tenor riff that could have come from classic Maiden or Priest, then does a full Mithras to it, creating a waltzing blast furnace that sways and crunches and lives. Likewise, “Howling Of a Distant Species” starts with a symphonically dark intro then becomes a death race across galaxies; pure speed and death, but also classic metal.
The band keeps this up for most of the record. And then you get the final four tracks where it makes a slight changup. Beginning with “The Last Redoubt” the quatrain finds Mithras moving into somehow even more epic, yet somehow more bizarre songs.
The aforementioned track is an effects strewn, lilting melody, walking us up to “Inside the Godmind”, which starts as most of the other tracks do, but ends with a dirty crushing sludge riff which devolves into spaced-out guitar weirdness. It becomes “The Outer Dark” which is essentially just dragging the listener down a vortex of effects and drums for two minutes. When the ride ends you are left bleeding before the titular track. This final opus sort of walks back over the styles you have heard up to this point, from lovely to blasting to chunky and finally to a spacey denoument and more tick-tocks.
I unfortunately can’t say too much about the production, as my review copy was on the low-end, quality wise, but the performances are lively and furious, as you would expect. The vocals never overpower or disappear, and as far as it goes all the other instruments seem very well balanced. I have no reason to suppose the production particulars are not very well done on the actual released album.
I am not going to gild this lily. It is a fantastic album, and will be fighting a mighty battle in December for the top spot on my best-of list, if I live that long. Which I almost certainly will, so this album will be there. As for you – get this god damned record. The end.