Written by Kep
Vaelmyst – Secrypts of the Egochasm
Melodic death metal from California, USA
Releasing August 13 via independent/self-release
I’m going to be as up front as possible here. I didn’t expect much from Secrypts of the Egochasm, the first full-length effort from the LA-based outfit. I pulled it from the promo list purely to mix up my slate of upcoming reviews, which had a lot of techdeath and little else this month. “Melodic death metal, huh? That’ll be a decent change of pace.”
I was sleeping on Vaelmyst. I was stupid and I am sorry.
Holy hell is this album awesome. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I’ve heard this year, full stop. Secrypts is a potent blend of all the things that are great about melodic death metal—the melodies that soar, the riffs that you can’t help but sing while you headbang in the car, the driving tempos and energetic drums, the beastly growls and screams—sprinkled with galloping thrash and classic metal swagger. It’s a smartly paced 41 minutes and 8 tracks of inspired songwriting and superb individual performances.
The guitar is, of course, the central feature of any metal outfit, and Vaelmyst’s axeman Ronny Lee Marks makes that guitar speak, man. His playing brings an appealing charm to the riffs, on top of their objective quality. Secrypts is filled with melodic lines that you’ll be hearing in your head all day long, starting from the very first few seconds of opener “Espirit de Corps”, where Marks introduces a bonafied headbobber in the bass and then transitions it to guitar. But this is hardly the kind of record with songs built on a single riff each; by :35 there’s a whole new motif, straight from the melodic Swedish school, that signals the arrival of the verse. Every track is built similarly with layers of fascinating riffage. The semi-gothic 4/4 opening section of lead single “Dawnless” transitions to a headlong gallop in triple meter. “Spineless Throne” throws its hair to the wind with a thrash-influenced riff before arriving at one of the coolest transitions on the album, where a funky little solo guitar line sidesteps into a driving melodeath groove. A simple but energetically catchy riff gets “The Ghost of Ire” underway, and eventually Marks builds an emotive, stretched-out melody over top of that framework.
Honestly, I only ask two things of guitarists in projects like this: give me riffs, and make sure your solos are badass. Marks covers both bases by utterly slaying every solo he takes. Check out the last 1:15 of “Dawnless” for a double dose of solo magic, with a weaving, lyrical passage followed quickly by a short and sweet display of technicality that leads perfectly into the song’s closing section with a wail. One of my favorites is a bit over midway through final track “The Coin of This Realm”: Marks follows an epic, power metal-esque passage of soaring lines with a twisting, emotive display that alternately shreds and sings. Plus, you won’t want to miss “Ghoulish Delight”, a tasty track that features a guest solo by the mega-talented Tyler Sturgill of Xoth.
I shouldn’t leave out praise for Marks’ bass, which is excellent as well. It’s a mostly complimentary role, sometimes doubling the guitar from underneath and sometimes in counterpoint with it, but it’s always well-written and well-played. Every now and then there’s a complex lick that shows awesome potential, like the section transition 90 seconds or so into “Espirit de Corps”, which makes me wish the bass was featured more.
Wyatt Bentley is the man behind the kit, and while it may be primarily the guitars that give Vaelmyst its appeal, his drumwork is the catalyst for all the infectious energy in their songs. Bentley’s work is bursting with life and drive, it’s tight as hell rhythmically, and every single track is boosted by it. The drums themselves are so reverberant that they sound like they were recorded in an abandoned hangar, but the hits are crisp and powerful. It’s a great combo.
Lyrically, Secrypts is a decidedly poetic experience, and vocalist Jonathan V delivers those words in a powerful way. The dial on his throaty roars and harsh screams is locked at 110% and his performance feels authentic, which is great especially because dramatic lyrics of this sort might come across as cheesy without the commitment of a genuine frontman. The writing is beautiful and immersive, with quote-worthy passages like “Envy, a most emulous blade / A doubt more arcane / Than the darkest of shades” and “But what of the depths from which you fell before? / Were the winds as bitter as the taste?” standing as examples of the fantasy elements Vaelmyst draws on. I’m a big fan of what Jonathan V does with bringing the words to the forefront of the music.
This album is an accomplishment worth being proud of regardless, but I especially tip my hat to Vaelmyst for recording and mixing it themselves, with Marks acting as recording tech and mixer. The instruments sound great and nothing overshadows anything else. A very good mastering job from Arthur Rizk, drummer of Eternal Champion and veteran producer, completes the package.
Don’t make the mistake I did and underestimate what Vaelmyst are capable of. Secrypts of the Egochasm will be out on August 13 via independent release and it’s not to be missed. The talent on display, especially for a first LP, is special, and I expect to be hearing great things about these guys for years to come.
Favorite track: Spineless Throne