Album Review: Millstone – “Isle” 6.9/10 (Death Groove)

Written by John Angel

MillstoneIsle
Death/groove from Siberia
Releasing on May 15th, 2021
Independent
6.9/10

Looking to the past for inspiration and instruction is as natural in music as any other human endeavor. For instance, one of the selling points of classical music, as many elitist nerds tell me, is that it’s a continuous tradition going back hundreds of years (I’ve never heard these folks talk about the 60,000 year continuous culture of Aboriginal peoples in so-called Australia but I digress) Metal listeners have a habit of canon-worshipping-navel-gazing almost as bad as classical fans. Ask any boomer metalhead what their favorite band is and you hear a band formed any later than 1994. Annoying gatekeeping aside, many musicians in metal bands tend to be well-versed in the styles and bands that came before them and it makes for wonderful reinterpretations and synthesis of older sub-genres. Hailing from Siberia, Millstone is one such band offering up a tasty blending of many the sub-genres that originally came about in the 80’s and 90’s.

Millstone describe themselves as falling under the “groove/death metal umbrella” and that assessment is right on the nose. Masterminded by guitarist Ivan Scherbakov and produced by Vladimir Lehtinen, Isle is a record that could easily fit right alongside any metal album released in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The group blends the technicality and ferocity of death metal bands like Death and Morbid Angel with the groove and swagger of later Lamb of God and Pantera (but don’t worry, they leave the racism out) 

Isle wastes no time getting into heavy and groovy riffage on opening track “Patres Ignotum” which reminds me of what you’d hear on a late ‘00s Lamb of God record. “Zombieland” shows us the Pantera side of groove that influences Millstone. The main riff on this track is vintage Dimebag and I love how the rhythm guitar drops out for the guitar solo with a semi-psychadelic tone. Really harkens back to ‘90s alt-rock. Speaking of, “The dark tower” provides a bit of a respite from the sonic assault of Isle and the cleaner guitar tones, especially the one around the 1:00 mark, make me think of classic Soundgarden tracks like “Black Hole Sun”. Scherbakov has a big range of guitar tones at his disposal and loves to use a wide variety of effects to achieve them, something that was more in vogue in metal in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He’s trying to bring back the Whammy pedal and I for one am all about it. Tom Morello is perhaps the most popular proponent of the Whammy and certainly makes the case as it’s most creative user. Scherbakov doesn’t take the Whammy quite to Morello-esque heights but it’s in there and it fuckin’ rules. You can hear his use of it on “Patres Ignotum” around the 2:20 mark and at some other choice locations throughout Isle.

In addition to the groove metal side of things we need to talk about Millstone’s penchant for death and thrash. “Everything is as it should be” and “One-way ticket” are prime examples of this influence. Riffing on these tracks is more searing and takes place at breakneck speeds. My favorite moment on Isle in this vein is the solo section of “Everything is as it should be”. Scherbakov keeps the riffs right on the line between death and thrash (deathrash if you will) and the drums alternate between thrashy skank beats (a very unfortunate name) and the blast beats of death metal. 

One of the more surprising things to me about Isle is that it’s a concept record. It’s based on the Russian sci-fi novel The Inhabited Island in which a young space explorer becomes stranded on an alien planet. Initially imagining himself Robinson Crusoe dealing with primitive but friendly natives, he soon discovers the planet has recently been through a nuclear war and it’s civil institutions are completely backwards and inhumane. Lyrics from the track “Turned Inside Out” paint a bleak picture of a poisoned environment and a society that exalts its military:

Massarakhsh! Hear the tribute to the soldier’s honor!

Massarakhsh! The food is poisoned here don’t you dare eat it!

Massarakhsh! No water will flow under the stone!

Massarakhsh! Hope is crucified, this world is doomed!

Doesn’t sound like a fun time to me. The novel has an interesting history of its own. Published in the late 60’s it was heavily edited to please Soviet censors and the original version wasn’t translated into English until recently. Oh, and “massarakhsh” isn’t a character name but a common expletive on Saraksh, the fictional planet on which the novel takes place and literally means “the world inside out”. Fun how that ties in with the track name ain’t it? 

I want to point out how Millstone handles their lyrics because I think it’s awesome. I’m pretty sure they sing in Russian, which I’m a fan of. There’s a lot of hesitancy for bands to sing in their native languages since English is the lingua franca of the metal industry, and the world at large, and I think that’s a shame. It would be wonderful for metal fans (especially ones in the US) to have more exposure to music in other languages and for bands to feel comfortable expressing themselves in their native languages if they so choose. Millstone sings in their native Russian and provides English translations. I think this is a great compromise: they present their lyrics in a way that is comfortable and authentic to themselves but allow for most metal listeners to follow along with the ideas and plot of their songs.

Isle is a really fun record full of mosh and headbang ready tunes. It won’t win awards for innovation but it features an awesome recontextualization and modern update of some classic metal sounds and is certainly worth listening to (not to mention it’s an independent release. Certified Z-Listers!!) Be sure to give Isle, the debut record from Millstone, a spin when it drops on May 15th!

6.9/10

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