Mystik - Mystik - (8.5/10)
Published on May 16, 2019
A long time ago in the mystical shadowy era of the mid to late 2000’s, a question that frequently came up was whether or not speed metal was an actual metal genre or just a fancier term for certain antiquated thrash, heavy, and power metal bands. In a way it’s understandable as speed metal even its pure forms tends to often sound like it’s nearing one or all three of these. Personally I lean towards the idea of it being a kind of transition state between these styles; bands that drifted from their genre origins but didn’t make full blown metamorphoses to become the next Gamma Rays, Forbiddens, or Angel Witches. Mystik in this case draw a good number of comparisons to early European style power metal as well as the speed metal that predated it, frequently played by the former’s musicians. Running Wild, Helloween, Blind Guardian, and Rage are good examples of this; all bands who began in the 80’s playing rough and tumble hard-edged fare but tightened their sound and became flagbearers for a wave of melodicism that would overtake Europe in the 90’s. Mystik hearken back to that era when the ingredients for power metal were there but hadn’t yet been disconnected from its leather-clad spike-bearing roots where it lived in the same dingy flat as Holy Terror, Angel Dust, Agent Steel, and Mysto Dysto. It’s a sound that’s recognizably OLD SKULL but at the same time, not a very obvious or well known one given how it was always too melodic for the then rapidly galvanizing thrash genre and too savage for NWOBHM and its immediate descendants. Yet in its specificity, it strikes a number of powerful chords and has quickly become one of the year’s finest for classic metal.
Mystik’s sound is a fast and hard hitting one as you might imagine but it is also very melody driven. However rather than the Hollywood blockbuster film score style explosive scale-work of latter day power metal, Mystik have this sinister almost subtly blackened vibe, courtesy of Beatrice Karlsson and now ex-axe swinger Lo Wickmann, at times slightly reminiscent of the Swedish speed tyrants Portrait and Source, sometimes even resembling Show No Mercy era Slayer trying to capture the ghostly mood of King Diamond. There’s a lot of fast lead playing gliding alongside or on top of the riffs, frequently in faster tremolo sounding arrangements, that balance out the sheer tenacity they can maintain even when they drop to a midpaced tempo. Behind the wall of fiery aggression is the warning, gruff voice of Julia von Krusenstjerna, taking a mid to lower range semi baritone with surprisingly smooth phrasing and flow that really shines on longer moderately strained notes. On occasion she has a slight snarl to her voice but there’s not much sense of buzzy grit to it; she comes off as a trained singer albeit not one very showy about that. Mystik’s sound strikes a careful balance of the raw bounding aggression and shimmering melodies woven through it, never really getting chuggy or crunchy but also knowing that its most triumphant and soaring segments should be backed up by a veritable threat of naked force. The vocal lines are very prominent and almost steal the show if not for simple but adroit drumming and excellently paced guitar work constantly competing against it, forcing everyone to stay on their toes. While the music is far from technical, every musician’s approach is tailor-sharpened to the specific needs of this style; there’s small bits of flair here and there in an almost blink-and-miss-it fashion but they subtly go a long way in helping keep the intensity fresh and varied.
As the cover art makes clear, the album’s atmosphere and subject matter is far more oriented towards the occult and demonic than would be norm for this style, again putting it in a similar category as Portrait and Source. It’s something that the music does a perfect job of evoking as well. The deadly three-track blitz of “Into Oblivion”, “Nightmares”, and “Ancient Majesty” showcases them at their most furious with an amazing command of knowing when to hold back their barbarity just enough to let your imagination fill in the gaps while still hitting highly memorable and anxious climbing-and-falling choruses descending into the darkest pits of puritanical fears. Toning down the tempos however doesn’t tame the beast however; “Gallows Hill” channels the rambunctiousness kind of like Powerlord’s The Awakening in a stomper of bruising verses and a death threat of a chorus over stormy drumming patterns. “Lake of Necrosis”, the longest track on the album, opens with a pulpy pipe organ melody, before an oddly subdued but far from ineffectual set of ringing chords gradually draws you into a realm of hanging wraith-like harmonies and probably the coolest chorus on the album with its sky-climbing call towards the forbidden powers that be. From all of these tracks, a common thread emerges; namely that their greatest strength is knowing how to be intense without turning intensity into a tiresome chore to endure. This is very immediate music and the sheer attitude on display would make many so-called “NWOTHM” bands shrivel from the infernal malevolence on display. Yet Mystik know how to keep it stripped down without becoming stock and use simplicity to help build on these almost first wave black metal reminiscent melodies far too sinister for your Enforcers and White Wizzards. It’s the sheer youthful charisma of the mid to late 80’s but re-armed and reinterpreted by experienced veterans rather than young 20-somethings giving a shot at exploring the then furthest reaches of melodic extremity in a time of great upheaval and change for metal as a whole.
A lean, mean, demon-invoking machine, the self titled debut of Mystik feels like every parental and priestly warning you ever were given about the soul-blackening danger of classic metal distilled into a single long ritual of forbidden power. It revels less so in being in the shadow of a specific band or sound (speed metal was never a codified genre) as much as the spirit of an era and the love of intensity and funereal magic it was associated with. However it’s “mature” enough as to avoid the pitfalls of the past as well and strives to improve on and refine the baseline idea; it is traditional while avoiding redundancy, something trickier than it sounds. It’s the perfect antidote to more radio friendly saccharine hooks and singalong stadium choruses and a reminder that classic 80’s metal had the same feral spirit as the extreme metal that would succeed it in the 90’s. It is a tribute to an era but it’s done well enough it comes off as an authentic time capsule view into the best metal had to offer then. Face the night alone and willing, take up the torch and the sword, and plunge headfirst into gaping maw of the dark.