Written by Kep
Majesties – Vast Reaches Unclaimed
> Melodic death metal
> Minnesota, US
> Releasing March 3
> 20 Buck Spin
Do you long for the good old days of the 1990s, when bands like In Flames, At the Gates, and Dark Tranquility were taking the metal world by storm, lifting the Gothenburg sound to the highest of heights? I sure do; despite all three of the Gothenburg originals still being active in the scene, none of them are making music that has that sound anymore. Honestly, it’s a style that’s pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, or at least so it seemed before Majesties came around.
Comprising Tanner Anderson of peerless medieval black metal outfit Obsequiae and the talented duo of Carl Skildum and Matthew Kirkwold of Inexorum, Majesties is an outfit with the pedigree to give any fan of underground metal pause. I actually heard the first single “The World Unseen” without knowing anything about the lineup, though, and my thoughts were thus:
Here’s the thing that got me then, and the thing that defines Vast Reaches Unclaimed as a whole: it’s nothing short of a love letter to the 90s Gothenburg sound, and it is glorious. It’s got everything that defined that Swedish melodeath movement, from the brilliant ultra-melodic riffs to the uplifting twin guitar solos to the harsh-edged production. The album is a nostalgia bomb tailor-made to send you into reveries three decades in the making, and yet it doesn’t feel rote or overly formulaic. Start to finish it’s a goddamn delight.
If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll notice when you get Vast Reaches Unclaimed spinning with opener “In Yearning, Alive” is that production. The guitars have an immensely satisfying crunch to them, a raw and ripping edge that gives their bright tone and stirring melodies extra pop. There’s a lot of major key work right from the jump, too, which is a staple of the sound Majesties are channeling. The band spends much of the song in compound meter, with that forward-surging feel that triplet-based time signatures tend to carry, always with a delightful sense of melody and variation.
The second thing you’ll notice as the album progresses is that very infrequently is one guitar riffing while the other simply supports. Instead Anderson and Skildum’s instruments work as two pieces of a single entity, weaving in and out of each other’s lines, spinning and wheeling and soaring in harmony. Those guitars are always entwining, wending their way sinew-like through the texture. Sometimes songs like “Our Gracious Captors” feature a more homogenous, chunky riff to kick things off, but before long the guitars are splitting into their signature twin lines, duetting constantly in both solo and riff settings. Even the brief singsong solo a little over halfway through the track, which clearly features one guitar as the lead, has an agile second guitar line that’s absolutely integral to its infectious charm. There are also moments where the lines move more subtly amidst a bigger wall of sound, in a way that shows a bit of Inexorum’s style.
The record is filled with moments like that, riffs and melodies and solos and interludes that will grab you and fill your little 90s melodeath-loving heart with joy. The brash main riff of “Verdant Paths to Radiance” did that for me, and so did the dazzling storm of flying notes that kicks off miniature powerhouse “Seekers of the Ineffable”, which also features one of the most nimble and catchy little dual solos on the album. Hell, I even detected some hints of the Swedish metalcore movement that followed albums like Slaughter of the Soul during the middle section of “City of Nine Gates”, juxtaposed brilliantly against suggestions of medieval singsong that bring Obsequiae right back to mind. And while the guitars are obviously the stars of the show, Kirkwold’s mostly understated bass snagged my ear more than once also, especially under an expansive guitar solo in the first half of “Verdant Paths to Radiance”.
A reminder: while Vast Reaches Unclaimed (and Majesties in general) is definitely an homage to the Gothenburg greats, it is by no means a clone or some pale imitation. The production is old school by design (and the master is good and loud) but isn’t an exact replica of its forbears; Anderson’s vocals aren’t pushed to the front of the mix in the same way as, say, Anders Frieden’s were in those first four In Flames records. The songwriting feels fresh, too: the way they’re unafraid to change metrical approaches mid-track isn’t new for the style (think “Wayfarer” from The Jester Race for reference) but their willingness to put those moments in every song is special, and their subtle nods to the feelings of their other musical projects are undeniable even though they’re discreet. I also feel that Anderson’s drumming has a unique power to it, as he channels something familiar through a more ferocious modern lens. He keeps the blasts to a minimum, but there’s vivid energy in the whole performance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Who would’ve guessed that 2023 would see one of the best examples of Gothenburg melodeath since the 90s coming out of the American Midwest? Vast Reaches Unclaimed is the most unexpected delight of the year so far, a magnificent return to the splendors of yesteryear through the ears of three killer musicians. It’s a gleaming feather in the cap of Anderson, Skildum, and Kirkwold, and proof that there’s still life in that classic Swedish sound. Here’s hoping Majesties isn’t a one-off.