Mithras' Rayner Coss and Leon Macey were the founding members of a band called Imperator in 1998, that would soon become Mithras only two years later. The british technical death metal duo then started to make a name for themselves in the early 2000s when they dropped their debut Forever Advancing...... Legions in 2002 and Worlds Beyond the Veil just a year later in 2003.
The band's mix of highly technical metal with themes of the astral and metaphysical that were presented by the atmospheric synth- and guitarwork made albums such as Worlds Beyond the Veil hidden gems of the death metal scene in the 2000s.
After the release of their third album, Behind the Shadows Lie Madness, in 2007 the band ceased further activities aside from a compilation in 2010 and an EP in 2011 and only now, nine years after their last full length album, Mithras have returned with a new record in the form of On Strange Loops.
The production value on this album is quite a bit above the band's previous releases and I feel like their sound really hits the right spots now with the impactful drums and fuzzy, spiky guitars inspired by the guitar tone on Morbid Angel's Heretic album. I really came to enjoy that kind of guitar sound when Mithras' labelmates of Sarpanitum deployed it on their sophomore album Blessed be my Brothers, one of the most well received technical death metal albums of 2015.
Mithras really know how to express and present the themes about space and fundamental metaphysical questions such as our reason for existing in an elegant and captivating manner. The lyrics are often quite straightforward, as you can tell by the title of the opening track, Why do we Live?, but the fusion of them with the atmospheric guitar sections and synths really brings the whole concept to fruition.
The usually extremely distorted guitars are joined by layers of crystal clear guitars that really build the emotional base on which the atmosphere of this album acts, which is something that is done most beautifully on the fifth song Odyssey's End.
Lone, reverbed guitar notes ring out into the endless nothingness of space and create a gripping feeling of tranquillity and awe as they're joined by subtle background synths. The intro slowly builds and swells before the guitars fully kick in. It sounds like an entire universe suddenly unfolds before you in its entire, overwhelming majesty and just as that impression has settled in, the band starts its unrelenting march. Pummeling bass drums drive the monumental tromolo riffs forward and make this the heaviest track on this album.
Right after Odyssey's End we have Howling of the Distant Spaces, that starts off on a strong 80s sci-fi vibe with guitars that slowly make their way forward against a backdrop of morsecode signals and classic snyths. The true highlight of this track however, is its climax. The already very technical song shifts into overdrive and creates an almost tangible feeling of losing control as it reflects the sentiment that rings within the lyrics of this track.
The only even more threatening song on here is Inside the Godmind towards the back end of the album. Frantic guitars and drumming set the scene as vocalist Rayner Coss sings of the overwhelming experience of someone that caught a glimpse of a godlike being. Crooked guitars and guttural vocals paired with driving bass drums make for the heavy and unsettling finale of the track.
In contrast to that, On Strange Loops also holds some really rather exhilarating compositions such as the second track When the Stars Align. Ascending tremolo guitar riffs and blastbeats propel the song forward as columns of brightly shining guitars fly by. The song transitions right into the next track, The Statue on the Island, that goes into a similarly exciting vein, with urgent and mighty riffs and some choir-like synths to further elevate the song's sense of grandness.
The diversity and atmospherical density is what really makes On Strange Loops an outstanding and captivating experience. The way Mithras executes the album's concept through a fusion of atmosphere and technicality is quite remarkable for large parts of the album.
It is only in some places, that the band's technical ambition really does get the best of them, which is most apparent and jarring at the very end of Howling of the Distant Spaces. After the great climax the band starts to make the transition towards the next track. However, everything just starts to clash, as the band adds atmospheric guitars to the already numerous layers as well as the busy drums and reverbed vocals. The next track, Between Scylla and Charybdis, has a similar section shortly after the halfway point, where the entire track just gets too busy and convoluted.
Aside from that the performances on this album are usually ridiculously tight and technical. The inhuman and almost cartoonishly technical drumming is really the most outstanding aspect as far as technicality goes on this record, whereas the guitars really shine when it comes to setting the tone of a composition. The vocals took a bit of getting used to for me, personally, but I came to appreciate their unusual and very shouty nature. If anything, I can only compliment them for their intelligibility because the lyrics on this album, despite being rather simple, are something to be heard and convey the themes of this album quite vividly.
I also thought that it was a nice touch that the album does actually loop, with what is probably supposed to be the ticking of a clock fading in and out.
Mithras delivered a stunningly technical and atmospheric album that really only has to yield to its own ambition in places. Overall, On Strange Loops is a really diverse 12 track powerhouse of experimental and technical death metal and definitely up there with the best releases of the subgenre for this year.