Review: Myrath – Legacy

Like all grassroots musical revolutions, the mid-2000s explosion of pagan and folk metal had been simmering in the depths of the underground’s underground longer than most people realized. For example, Eluveitie’s signature sound – Celtic pipes and fiddles interwoven with a mesmerizing drone of a hurdy-gurdy and peppered with intoxicating sean-nós singing over a barrage of Scandinavian-style death metal – can easily be traced back to the efforts Skyclad made nearly fifteen years before Herr Chrigel first started growling publicly. Given metal’s rabid following in Northern and Eastern Mediterranean, a crossover into the Arab sphere was a distinct inevitability; Israeli pioneers Orphaned Land had long ago made a habit of spicing up their brand of progressive metal with Levantine instruments and the occasional Hebrew or Arabic lyric. It was only a matter of time before bands from the infinitely more repressed Arab countries would begin slinging their wares.

UC Irvine Middle Eastern History professor Mark Levine documented the rise of Arab rock, metal, and hip-hop beautifully in his 2008 book Heavy Metal Islam, but even it couldn’t have predicted the rise of Tunisia’s premier metal sons Myrath. Their unassuming 2007 debut album Hope was a commendable if somewhat unmoving record, replete with neoclassical shredding and moves copped directly from the prog-metal rubric; a casual metal fan could have correctly guessed that Myrath had spent the better part of two years performing as a Symphony X cover band. What Hope did offer, however, was its own namesake, and Myrath bit back hard three years later with Desert Call. At last, the band’s metalness embraced their native culture as they interlaced hypnotic frame drums, intoxicating microtonal singing (sometimes in Arabic), and otherworldly Arab strings into a more focused style of quasi-progressive heavy metal. Myrath was at last finding its own voice.

Six years, one album, and a transnational political revolution later, we have Legacy, a more cohesive and distinctly Tunisian take on the unique style Myrath has been furiously perfecting. Following the bewitching instrumental “Jasmin” (which belongs on the Lawrence of Arabia soundtrack, godammit), our ears are treated to the catchy-as-fuck lead single “Believer.” This particular tune encapsulates the essence of Myrath: all the prog/power metal staples – huge drums, huger guitars, infectious riffing, etc – are accented with earworm string arrangements, frame drums and other Arab folk instruments, and Zaher Zorgati’s inimitable voice. Part Jørn Lande, part Russell Allen, and part Ehab Tawfiq, Zorgati’s vocal acrobatics throughout Legacy solidify his standing as one of metal’s most capable frontmen; check out the incredible melisma he exhibits on the Arabic-sung refrain (and especially the interlude, from 3:40 to 4:02) on “Nobody’s Lives.” I mean, damn. Fucker’s got pipes!

It is on moments like this that Myrath are at their finest, seamlessly blending the creepiest and most terrifying aspects of metal and both traditional and classical Arab music. It has not escaped notice that the aforementioned Israeli kings of Middle-Eastern metal Orphaned Land adopted some of Myrath’s string stylings into their most recent album, 2013’s All Is One. It also has not escaped notice that the two bands toured Europe together shortly afterwards, bridging a festering divide in Arab-Israeli relations. Would that the world at large would follow the example these heavy metal mushbrains bravely set. As in metal, so in life.
Myrath also further redefine themselves on the moody though pitifully titled “I Want to Die” and the urgent “Get Your Freedom Back,” which reads like an informal tribute to Mohammed Bouazizi and the Jasmine Revolution. Just as importantly, we find Myrath shifting decidedly away from the worst aspects of melodic metal, namely the Velveeta Factor. Legacy does demonstrate Myrath’s struggle with the trappings of power metal, but is a far more engaging listen than its two predecessors, which for all their flair mostly sagged in their latter halves. Fortunately, the lactose is mostly relegated to the gloriously produced but embarrassingly cheesy video the band made for “Believer” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM1d7C8aOWk). Still, Legacy is a thoroughly satisfying listen that helps to dispel the notion that Myrath are merely the Arab world’s Stratovarius.

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