[Cover art by Juanjo Castellano]
The short version:
If you’re a melodeath fan, don’t buy the supposed return-to-form new record from In Flames, which is really a Korny-chorus-heavy Sounds of a Playground Fading wolf in Colony sheep’s clothing. Buy this instead, because it rules, and you should expect more bang for your buck
The long version:
Minneapolis melodic death metallers Majesties arrive with a well-established pedigree, consisting of Obsequiae mainman Tanner Anderson on guitar, vocals, and drums, and the duo that makes up Inexorum ‒ Carl Skildum and Matthew Kirkwold ‒ on guitars and bass, respectively. The trio brings a lot of experience playing together, with Skildum and Kirkwold regulars in the Obsequiae live lineup and Anderson providing guest spots on the last couple Inexorum records. Both the high quality of their established acts and this seasoned chemistry ought to create some moderate expectations for the Majesties debut record (and for your aforementioned dollars).
It isn’t just the former greats that got dissed at the beginning of this review however (former greats whose classic works this writer holds in extremely high regard, it must be stated). Also obvious throughout are nods to Eucharist’s Mirrorworlds, the less thrashy side of Dark Tranquillity, pre-Slaughter of the Soul At the Gates, Gardenian (minus the singing), and lots of other acts that thrived during Sweden’s melodeath peak. More than anything, Vast Reaches Unclaimed nails that touch of neoclassicism, moments of infectious triumph, and, well, majesty exhibited by so many of these bands, straight down to the occasional medieval touch in a soft interlude or song ending (“Our Gracious Captors”). This again should come as no surprise to either Obsequiae or Inexorum fans, but it’s still worth noting just how graceful the leads, waltzy sways, and frequent tremolo harmonies are throughout this record. When contrasted by the frequently hefty foundational riffing and Anderson’s charismatic, Tompa-ish screech, you get a nearly perfect melodeath balance of beauty and fire. And just like the genre greats were doing all the time more than a quarter century ago (feel free to feel old for a while), it’s all delivered over tracks that feature plenty of shifts in riff style, rhythm, and level of aggression.
Another key trait: Vast Reaches Unclaimed is a rather efficient record. Many of the songs come in under four minutes and none exceed five, with a total runtime under 40 minutes. This ensures that the album never drags despite the lack of a wide stylistic range and that all the little touches and big moments stand out that much more boldly to the listener. Some examples: the churning section that makes subtle but effective use of keyboards in “Across The Neverwhen”; the rather stately solos placed over a softer backdrop in “Sidereal Spire”; and the chonkier solo accompaniment in “The World Unseen.” Each are the types of passages that create glue for their respective songs, while creating those hooks that make you hungry for more spins. When a track includes a few of these big moments ‒ as with the ascending verses and blazing tremolo breaks during spectacular closer “Journey’s End” ‒ you get the tunes that really glue the record together.
It’s a funny bit of timing that Vast Reaches Unclaimed is releasing shortly after a new In Flames that tries (not nearly enough) to recapture their 90s melodeath glory, because based purely on 2023 album evidence, Majesties seems to understand those roots better than the band that helped create them. Melodeath rarely sounds as simultaneously fresh and in touch with the classics as does Vast Reaches Unclaimed, which ought to be reason enough for any fan of this suddenly decades-old metal style to dig right in.