Album Review: MaYaN - "Antagonise"

At first blush, MaYaN’s new album “Antagonise” seems like an exercise in formulaic death metal with some melodic tangents, not so different from Soilwork, Susperia, Hypocrisy and a million different also-rans. Do yourself a favor; don’t let the first blush be your only consumption of MaYaN. There’s a lot more going on here than the initial impact alludes to.

Ingenuity in heavy metal, like good hands on a wide receiver, is an altogether underrated quality. In metal, we too often long for something familiar or at least appreciably comparable to norms we’ve already embedded in our expectation. It’s much too easy to forget that metal, in its birth pangs, was a genre of untapped potential – a universe yet to be explored or experimented within. So when MaYaN attempts to cross the threshold into uncharted combinative territory, let’s not be too hasty in judging them, or more critically, in pigeonholing them.

Let’s get the white elephant out of the room as it pertains to the curious brew of elements that uneasily coexist on “Antagonise.” No, it doesn’t always work. It would have been impossible for it to be this ambitious and be flawless at the same time, particularly for a band only hatching their second record (though certainly Mark Jansen has been around the block with Epica.) In the interest of specifics, the high melody stretches of “Human Sacrifice,” rich with groove and seeded through with something approaching legit opera vocals never effectively coexist with the ground-and-pound double kick breakdowns. The symphonic touches that attempt to connect the tissue are nice, but end us as window dressing.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to why MaYaN’s new record could be a highlight in 2014 and a strong anchor for the band’s future. The musical understanding that it takes to even attempt this kind of genre blending is hard enough to find, but the confidence to actually go through with the feat is rarer still. The mere presence of opera vocals and the album’s proper placement of the grand soliloquy “Insano” speaks to the kind of aplomb which MaYaN is employing in crafting this record.

You never really see this more than in “Redemption: The Democracy Illusion,” a cut that weaves together a tapestry of grindstone death metal marching and melodic accents that keep the song moving along with an endemic, instinctive groove. The guest vocals by the excellent Floor Jansen add just another layer of color to a piece that might almost qualify as progressive if the gain has been turned down a little. It reminds me in passing of the Prototype album “Catalyst.”

There’s something about the orchestration of “Antagonise” that works in creating a sound that is musically catchy and emotionally dramatic. The sweeps and crescendos of “Capital Punishment” make the song memorable, even if the baseline rhythm isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking. In metal of this type, it seems the lesson that MaYaN wants to impart is that creativity need not lie in the individual composition, but rather in the combining and mixing of elements into new and creative patterns.

We see this again for “Faceless Spies: National Security Extremism part 2,” a song that throws dozens of ideas into the fan and then simply observes the resulting spatter on the wall. It’s a dense concoction of multiple ideas, not the least of which is the juxtaposition between fuzzy death metal madness and sleek concert piano. As we stated earlier, not all the parts of the song are entirely soluble, but the thrust of the message gets through, particularly at the halfway mark where the symphonic and the metallic collide in rough harmony.

While “Antagonise” contains some flaws, I find myself studying it both with academic interest and growing fandom. It’s always the records that capably do something new or different which catch my attention the most, and MaYaN’s new record both achieves that lofty goal and is a damn enjoyable listen, too. Spin it if you have any taste for either death or symphonic metal.

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