Thursday, June 6, 2013

Exthenia - Dominate The Wind (EP) (2013)

Sometimes, life just isn't fair. While many aspiring musicians wallow in the unfortunate talent-less pool, their counterparts go off and show that the metal scene is more like the movie "Twins" than we ever could have imagined. On one side, you get the runt; the Danny Devito, short, bald, fat, joke bands. On the other side, the model of musical perfection; talented, creative and brimming with ideas. We've all seen too many of the former, both locally and internationally. But it is the latter that keeps us coming back. And Exthenia, for their six months of existence, have already given us enough to show which side of the fence they are on. With one demo already released, this Finnish three piece must have their DNA twisted in just the right way to enable their first official release seem all too easy. The five songs on "Dominate The Wind" may lack the clean, crisp sound of a professional engineer, but the substance far outweighs the vessel, something they prove time and time again.

It doesn't take long for the title track to inject a little energy into your diet, as the guitar work comes fast and furious right from the onset. What "Dominate The Wind" lacks in slick production values and needless overdubs, it more than makes up for in pure skill. Lead guitarist Mikael Weckström blazes a sweep picking trail throughout the track, flanked on one side by a high speed drum attack, and on the other by an unpolished and brutally raw vocal line. The final twenty seconds are eye opening ones. The sheer amount of instrumentation to take in, particularly on "Falling Down," is incredible, with multiple layers of guitars and drums flooding the mix. The lead melodies alone would be enough to pad out the entire run time, but the way they lock up with the rhythm guitars, provided by vocalist Juho Raita, only strengthens their ability. The barely three minute offering eliminates the need for useless filler, and keeps things brief, concise, and powerful. With the longest track, "Eternal Spirit," clocking in just over four minutes, it seems the band have found a perfect formula for their message. And while the metallic crash of cymbals can be overbearing, sometimes drowning out the leads, they do redefine the term "heavy metal." Drummer Ville Lähteenmäki blasts his way through verse and chorus with a flurry of snares, toms, cymbals and furious double kicks. His work could easily constitute an hour workout session.

Their most polished effort, the shredding masterpiece of "Disappointment" shows off the band at their most focused, and perhaps most deadly. It is their seamless transition from verse to chorus, mid tempo to high, that comes off as being much more precisely planned and rehearsed. But it is the breakdown portion that will likely stand out here, with the band adopting a few scarce moments of pure melody, nailing down a guitar lead that sets off the final assault. Weckström, in all of his virtuosic talent, often brings to mind the incredible, albeit fictional, playing of one Skwisgaar Skwigelf. His tone, reminiscent of Skwigelf's real life musical double, Brendon Small, is larger than life. That album finishes with another exhibition in drumming domination, as Lähteenmäki powers his way through a series of earth rattling double kick segments, somehow refusing to waver under what must be a massive amount of exhaustion and lactic acid buildup. For his part, Raita delivers an outstanding vocal performance, if not slightly overshadowed in the mix. Cleaning up his place in the pecking order might, in fact, be the difference in their future efforts.

It seems absolutely crazy that, after just 6 slim months, Exthenia are at this high level of operation. They seem to have all of their proverbial ducks in a row, on this their first official release. They aren't trying to disguise themselves as anything other than what they are. This is melodic death metal, with an infusion of some major thrash riffs. No frills, no lacy borders or hidden Easter eggs. The straightforward, full speed ahead nature of the EP is part of what makes it so enjoyable, and so painstakingly good. Twenty minutes is absolutely a finite measure of time. But rarely has it felt so much shorter, so much more compact and compressed as it does here. Raita, Weckström, and Lähteenmäki don't have it down to an exact science yet; a date with a proven engineer and mastering firm might prove me wrong. But they've shown that the talent pool may be large, but it is certainly not divided up equally. From where they are standing, things are looking pretty damn good. From the other end? A lot of bands and aspiring musicians will be looking up at the giant-to-be.


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