If one searches for the name Maelstrom on the Metal Archives website, one gets a list of twenty seven bands all bearing the name; I guess it is a rather popular nom de plume. I think I know a couple of these bands, but the one I am interested in today hails from the United Kingdom, and more specifically, Scotland. I’m not sure I recall how I happened across these guys; but I expect I got sucked in by the cool album artwork. However I happened upon them, I am glad that I did.
My curiosity was raised when I noticed the description Melodic Black Metal. You hear about Melodic Death Metal all the time, and Symphonic Black Metal as well, but Melodic Black Metal…ok, why not check it out, right? Plus, these guys do not look like your typical black metal band either. You won’t find any spikes, chains or corpsepaint here; rather these guys with their suits and ties look like they might fit in with The Hives or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
“Sunlight” is Maelstrom’s second album, and what an eye-opening surprise it turned out to be. Genre purists might complain that Maelstrom is diluting the purity of true black metal with their fancy clothes and less-than-traditional songwriting (more on that in a minute) but I disagree. While there are still plenty of great black metal bands around these days, most of my favorite are the ones that challenge the genre stereotypes and do things, or add elements that help breathe new life into a style too stubborn and proud to allow much change. Maelstrom’s willingness to expand upon this sound was one of the first things I noticed about the band.
The first clue I had that this was not your typical black metal album was the production. Sadly, playing extremely lo-fi and raw black metal is still a common practice (and at times one I can agree with), but I get much more excited when black metal bands like Vreid, and now Maelstrom, utilize a cleaner production that allows my old ears to pick out the little interesting bits in the music, of which there are many, that would normally be lost in a raw and fuzzy production. Black Metal is notorious for its cold and very treble-heavy sound which all but banishes the bass and low-end (and I am quite fond of that sound too), so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to make out actual thick-ass bass lines on this album.
One final addition to Maelstrom’s untraditional sound is the use of clean vocals. Sure, Emperor and some other bands have used clean vocals with brilliant results, but those are few and far between, and tend toward a more majestic sound. These clean vocals are simply clean vocals, and they work wonderfully within the landscape of “Sunlight.”
So by now you may be asking yourself, “George, is there even anything truly black metal about this album?” And the answer to that question is of course there is. The main vocals are diabolically harsh and my first impression brought to mind Immortal. These vox sound evil and sharp, easily cutting through the music. Yet they are also fairly well enunciated which, if nothing else, adds an element of power to the sound.
I do not recall how many songs it took me to realize I was falling deep under the spell of Maelstrom, but I can assure you it wasn’t many. “Sunlight” is a total sleeper hit and I cannot recommend it enough. Did I mention these guys are unsigned? Un-fucking-believable. So if you are looking to impress your friends with your obviously vast knowledge of the metal underground, check out Maelstrom and “Sunlight” and be the envy of all in your metal brethren. The women will swoon and the men will want to be you. Or at the very least you will get your hands on some killer metal.
If you find you too cannot get enough Maelstrom, make sure to pick up their first album “The Shores at Dawn.” The production on that one is not quite as clean, but the songs are still very good. You can pick up both albums over at the band’s BandCamp page. I recommend you head over there now.