Some bands, such as Oblivion or Enchanter, make me scratch my head at the fact that they’re completely unknown, as they rule extremely hard and are similar to some more well-known bands (Sanctuary and Fates Warning, respectively). Clearly some metalheads just aren’t willing to go the extra mile and find the hidden gems – because plenty of people would go apeshit over those two acts, I’m pretty confident. A band like MaelstroM though – their obscurity is no surprise whatsoever – in fact I’d be surprised if they were well-known. Not because they suck, but because they’re so absurdly esoteric; neoclassical power/speed/thrash with extremely progressive song structures, random acoustic segments, and proto-death metallish yells alternated with really, really fucking strange and off-putting cleans. Add in songs that average around 7 minutes in length, and you have an inaccessible demo by some no-name power/thrash band.
However, if you can get past their extremely strange and inaccessible nature, this band just flat out rules. Released in 1991, it pushes all kinds of boundaries; sure, extreme metal was already around and well-established, but the boundaries this demo pushes aren’t into extreme metal territory; it’s into technical, progressive, and neoclassical speed/thrash. Sure, tech-thrash was hardly brand new in ’91, with acts like Toxik, Realm, Mekong Delta, and Watchtower putting out top-tier releases in the subgenre, and Helstar’s Nosferatu had dealt with neoclassical thrash two years earlier, but to combine the two on top of weird interludes, an inimitably crazed vocalist, and songs so progressive that they pushed the envelope of the “progressive” genre at the time is pretty impressive – to actually pull coherent and quality songs out of the mix is downright brilliant.
First off, the production for a no-name demo from ’91 is quite good; in fact, everything is pretty much mixed perfectly – nice loud, vicious drums, sharp and up front guitar, constantly audible bass, and a nice vocal presence – these guys clearly knew what they were doing. Additionally, as I’ve stated earlier, vocalist Gary Vosganian is fucking insane, in a good way. He has this really sharp, sneering tone that’s fairly unique, but if I had to compare it to someone well-known I’d say he sounds like a slightly cleaner version of Martin Walkyier (Skyclad, Sabbat). I like him even more than Walkyier I think, as Walkyier almost has too much bite for me at times, especially in Sabbat, but whether or not he’s technically better he’s got a fairly similar style. Of course, Walkyier never does the growls or yells (or other noises…that laugh at the beginning of “A Futile Crusade” is fucking creepy!) that are part of what makes Vosganian’s performance so enjoyable. I’m not really sure to whom I could be justified in comparing the yells; they sound sort of generically like late ’80s death/thrash vocals, but I couldn’t really pin down a specific vocalist.
The great vocals are complemented by the frantic, dissonant, dynamic riffing, though, which is also absolutely terrific. It’s hard to describe concisely; it’s just so progressive and fast-paced that it’s hard to pick out specific riffs or motifs even after listening to it several times. It’s always coherent, though – every note is important to the song; the guitar never wanks around or does anything superfluous; even the frequent scales fit in very well, although if someone told me that frequent scales would work in blisteringly fast progressive power/thrash, I’d probably laugh in their face. I don’t know quite how it works, it just does – these guys are masters at songwriting. Think Cauldron Born, I guess – scales throughout some of the songs still works, even with super progressive structures. There’s also frequent use of acoustic guitar, sometimes alone, sometimes above the electric guitar, which adds another level of atmosphere and grandiosity to the music.
Ultimately, I can’t really say much more about the music in general; I’d need to go into meticulous detail to pick up more subtle references and ideas, but if super esoteric progressive neoclassical tech-thrash/power/speed sounds like your bag, definitely grab this one. It’s only about 26 minutes or so, but it often feels like an entire full-length because of all the ideas that are thrown at you (plus, 26 minutes is as long as some full-lengths). It’s a shame they didn’t release any new material after this, but this demo, as well as the previous one from 1989, are real gems and the band was one of the best out there, bar none.
Favorite track: The Mirror Calls