Mausoleum Gate - Mausoleum Gate - (8.5/10)
Published on November 11, 2014
There’s a common tendency among reviewers and observers both in the mainstream and the depths below to simplify both classic heavy metal and its modern day worshippers into a grand over-arching generalization that could be boiled down simply as “Judas Priest and Iron Maiden… maybe some Dio, Saxon, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath”. None can deny that all those bands remain hugely influential to this day. However when one’s reference points for something as broad as “classic heavy metal” is limited to the most well established names you learned when you first discovered wikipedia and filesharing, it’s safe to assume that’s where their knowledge of it begins and ends. This lack of knowledge of the revered of metal genres is harmful because it tars a lot of great talent under factually inaccurate stripes and great bands, like these recent Finnish fellows, go unchecked by the crowd. Existing beyond the “NWOBHM all over again” spectrum that most neo-traditional acts are associated with, Mausoleum Gate’s self titled isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory. A charmingly antiquated yet strongly distinctive release, it pays its dues to the ways of olde in a starkly idiosyncratic way, presenting an alternate take on the early years of metal.
The first thing that makes this album stand out is that there’s a heavy dose of 70’s in both the smokey, slightly subdued production and the primeval nature of their riffing. Although the lead guitar fluency is comparable to the best the British were putting out, the actual riffing style has a variety of holdovers drawn from the nebulous realms 70’s hard rock, prog, and psychedelia. While songs like “Mercenaries of Steel” and “There Must Be Demons” wouldn’t sound too out of place in 1984, they tend to have a bluesy sense of melody coupled with riffing that focuses less on gallop race-horse rhythms or proto-power metal single-string picking, emphasizing catchy skipping crunch technique that’s emphatic and energetic yet still keeping a rockier sense of fist-pumping enthusiasm that was common from around 1980 – ’83. Bass is prominent in how it weaves simple but deeply satisfying melodies, harmonizing with the guitar rather than hammering away at the root. Although it is easily quite audible it never quite becomes particularly showy, fleshing out the darker side of these ambiguous riffs, lulling at the edges yet filling them out like perfectly slotted puzzles. While not particularly technical, it’s playing is quite strategic and in many ways the most 70’s of all the musicians, boldly striding step by step alongside the guitar.
The first three songs that open up the album showcase these tendencies well. “Magic of the Gypsy Queen”, with its stuttering off-beat verse riff and keyboard-harmonized lead break brings to mind a mixture of Winterhawk’s showier moments and maybe a slimmed down Budgie with more metallic bite. “Demon Droid” swaggers in with a ballsy, foot-tapping groove and big descending-staircase chorus riff that was clearly meant for synchronized fistpumping. There’s even a break into simplified progressive rock with “Lost Beyond the Sun”, emphasizing cleaner harmonies and sweeping synthesizer backing that would make King Crimson proud. After the two more aggressive numbers from the previous paragraph, eleven minute band-and-album referencing number comes aboard, uniting all these threads into a single retrospective. It’s a great example of the strong sense of mood this album creates – not quite that swashbuckling pulpy adventure or street-smart ballsy machismo but a sense of mystery and subtly warning ambiguity. Chant-cadence riffing and a few select clean breaks balance out repetition and release, while V-P Varpula’s desperate nasally wail invites the listener further beyond whatever mist-and-moog-synth shrouded realm he’s clearly attempting to float off too. He’s certainly the aspect of the band that will be hardest for most to adapt to with his theatrical and slightly Engrishy enunciation. Often he sounds quite hollow and impassioned, almost like a wizened old wizard who sang choir pretty well, but it’s the perfect fit for the sorcerous vibe present throughout the album. His range is somewhat limited compared to today’s power metal singers but like In Solitude’s Pelle Åhman, he tends to emphasize tone and character over raw strength and pitch.
All of these factors taken in, Mausoleum Gate’s self-titled actually improves on a lot of what many bands from around 1980 – ’82, perhaps ’83 if we want to be a little more lenient, tried to do during the transition from harder rocks to heavier metal. While the groove and bluesiness is there, they never go for outright stop-and-go radio single fare or mellow love songs that were usually what the hard rock number on earlier metal albums were associated with. Here, rather than being a somewhat incongruous holdover from the past, the pre-metal elements are deliberate and add a sense of ambiguity to their distinctive and driving metallic delivery. Even by the standards of bands trying to sound very dated, this is pretty ancient sounding but not as if they tried to mimic an established name as much as capture the spirit of an important developmental stage of metal itself. It might not exactly be a hit for those looking for big Hollywood in-your-face classic heavy metal but for those who don’t mind hopping off the beaten path, looking for an alternate take on familiar ideas, it’s perfect listening material.