Meliah Rage - Dead to the world 3.5/5

Reviewed: 11-1-11


1. Up in flames
2. Valley of the shadowless souls
3. Skin and bones
4. Absolute obedience
5. Where nothing ever grows
6. Never from me
7. Cold cruel fate
8. Time won’t let me breathe
9. Awaken sorrow

My appreciation for Massachusetts old-school metallers Meliah Rage is well documented, so I’ll not preface this review with another long-winded explanation of how much this band means to me, dating back to my college days in Boston that coincided with the release of their 1988 classic debut, ‘Kill to survive’. The short version of where things stand with Meliah Rage today is that they recorded one of the strongest CDs of their career in 2009. Called ‘Masquerade’, it featured the triumphant return of original Meliah Rage singer Mike Munro to the fold, plus a much faster, heavier, more epic writing style than had characterized the band’s previous few CDs. Some people were put off by the overtly Christian lyrics that the born-again Munro brought to the table, but I thought ‘Masquerade’ was brilliant.

Unfortunately, it was never the band’s intent that Munro’s return would be permanent. Apparently, he is quite active with his family and missionary work and was simply unable to commit to an ongoing role in a working metal band. That’s understandable, perhaps even laudable. To fill this void, Meliah Rage once again tapped Paul Souza (who had previously replaced Munro on the ‘Barely human’ and ‘Deep and dreamless sleep’ CDs in the middle of the aughts, or whatever you call that decade spanning 2000-09) for the frontman job. Souza’s a more than capable replacement. What he lacks in terms of Munro’s sheer ferocious lungpower, he compensates in terms of versatility, melodic sense, and attitude. Also, Souza alleviates any concerns lyrically by eschewing the religious bent of his predecessor in favor of more tried’n’true themes of alienation, anger, despair and destruction. When Souza spits out venomous lyrics like “I’m armed with hate and I’m on a roll”, it just fits the music to perfection. So there should be no worries as to the vocalist slot.

Much to my delight, guitarist/songwriter Anthony Nichols elected to follow the same musical direction on ‘Dead to the world’ that he did on ‘Masquerade’. That means bruising, sometimes thrashy riffage, married to a keen sense of melody and musical dynamics, with more than a few unexpected twists and turns along the way in the arrangements. The songs typically hover in the 5-6 minute range. This is absolutely a guitar-oriented CD, and the longstanding tandem of Nichols and Jim Khoury play up a storm. The comparisons to Metal Church remain valid, and there’s once again a healthy dose of early Metallica on display (tell me that riff in the middle of “Cold cruel fate” doesn’t remind you of “Ride the lightning”). Opener “Up in flames” is an instant classic, with thrash intensity, a compellingly urgent vocal line, and a surprisingly melodic chorus that allows musicians and listener to take a deep breath before the pummeling resumes. “Cold cruel fate” is another uptempo highlight, injected with an extra dose of catchiness that caused Metal on Metal Records to release it as a digital single preceding the full-length CD. Also worthy of mention is “Where nothing ever grows”, a more mid-paced stomper with a hypnotic chorus and a musical ebb and flow that recalls early Metallica’s compositional style. And the CD closes with “Awaken sorrow”, another thrashy-to-moody-and-back-again tune, this one featuring lyrical and lead vocal contributions from Munro in a welcome tip-of-the-cap to the man who stood behind the Meliah Rage mike for so many years.

‘Dead to the world’ falls short of the greatness that is ‘Masquerade’ in only a pair of areas. The sound job is surprisingly patchy in places, with Souza being far too low in the mix on a few songs and the lead guitars sounding too “punched-in” and incongruous with the surrounding sonics. Producer Rich Spillberg (ex-Wargasm) achieved a killer sound for the band on ‘Masquerade’ so I wish they had used him again here. The other concern is that the CD feels a bit skimpy. Take out the 2 instrumentals (one of which is sprinkled liberally with World War II-era sound clips), and there’s only 37 minutes of material here scattered over 7 songs. I understand the importance of leaving the audience wanting more, but this just seems incomplete.

Don’t let these weaknesses deter you though. ‘Dead to the world’ is an excellent Meliah Rage CD, and is possibly the best the band have ever recorded with Souza on vocals. Fans of Meliah Rage or well-executed old-school U.S. metal, in general, should track this down without hesitation.




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