December 31, 2022

Symphonic black metal may be a bit of a niche market but with this album Mist Of Mercy demonstrate the amazing capabilities of the genre.

Ever since Ozzy sang ‘What is this that stands before me?’, dark and evil topics have been a trademark of metal and doom genres. When you get to black metal bands then the depressing tones are usually laid on thick and the Swedish band by the name of Mist Of Misery are no exception. It’s a poetic name, isn’t it? One that might conjure up wistful melancholy rather than the anguished deep dive into despair that the band delivers lyrically. Really, they might have better named themselves Pea-Souper Fog Of Misery!

With our four Swedish friends painted as skeletons, as if in some mockery of a certain American band, I approached this album with some trepidation, fearing that such gimmicks would just be an attempt to hide forty minutes of sub-standard extreme metal screaming. Well, there is some very violent use of the vocal cords from the band’s new singer Änglamakaren, but the use of light and shade and the thrilling symphonic arrangements give this disc an unexpected classical and progressive feel. The word that came to my mind to describe the soundscape was ‘epic’. There is something magnificent about the way the keys and strings broaden the sound to create magical cinematic climaxes, which despite the lyrical content, are somehow cathartic.  

So, speaking about the lyrical content, yes, we do get some miserable-sounding titles that vie with each other to sound the most depressing (An Ode To Solitude? A Sombre Solace? Oceans Of Grief? A Wasted Life? Cheerful stuff!) but there is some method to the misery because this is a concept album. Without wishing to give any spoilers, it’s a true story and a thoroughly miserable one. And it’s set to a background of winter and lots of snow. The lyrics are poetic more than detailed story-telling and that winter-sadness symbiosis raises parallels with Schubert’s song cycle entitled Winterreise (that’s ‘Winter Journey’ in English), which way back in 1827 set out the blueprint for miserable music wallowing in self-pity and self-loathing (I would encourage the band to consider doing a cover version of this song cycle!). 

Not as cheerful as Kiss

The album opener Ode To Silence is a good example of a typical Mist Of Misery song. It opens with a minute of piano solo before Änglamakaren comes in belligerently with an impressively intimidating death metal growl. He’s accompanied by frantic guitar riffing before the synths burst through gloriously with their theme. After a spoken section, this cycle is repeated in even more aggressive tones (the speed of the drumming of Livsnekaren has to be heard to be believed). While a good number of the tracks follow this same template, there are subtle differences in the approach between songs that keep the approach fresh. One of the reasons that these songs work for me is that the vocals and guitars are not too prominent in the mix. This allows the keyboards and orchestral parts to be clearly heard. Mortuz Denatus, founder of the band a decade or so ago, plays all guitars and keyboards and creates the orchestral arrangements, and this perhaps helps avoid competition between band members and results in a more logical production sound.

While this is a consistently good disc, the high point of the album revolves around the two central pieces, which are also the longest at circa eight minutes each. Into The Embrace Of Winter has a symphonic introduction with pizzicato strings, seemingly perfectly capturing slow footsteps trudging through heavy snow. The lyrics and their delivery are vicious on this one and the way the orchestral theme enters is gloriously cinematic. There’s an atmospheric spoken passage before an overwhelming vocal section which you think cannot be surpassed until the third wave marks the actual climax of the piece. As if in recognition that this song is hard to follow, it segues into the one-minute A Wasted Life, a gentle solo piano tune which cuddles you gently after that trauma. But it’s then straight back to the angst with the superb Through Night’s Gloom, the most classically influenced piece on the album with its haunting use of strings, and again one with a memorable orchestral theme and punctured by shattering climaxes. 

To grasp the full cinematic scale of this music, you would need to remove the vocals and guitars. Rather cleverly, that’s what the band have done by releasing an orchestral version of the entire album. And just as you listen to a film score and tend to recall scenes from the film it was written for, it’s difficult to listen to this orchestral version without getting drawn back into the grim tale.

Symphonic black metal may be a bit of a niche market but with this album Mist Of Mercy demonstrate the amazing capabilities of the genre. It’s a great album that will appeal to those who love epic cinematic vistas, tragic tales and prefer the thinking man’s death metal to the mindless variety. If only he were alive today, Schubert would give the thumbs up for sure!