Melodeath is a tricky one to pull off these days, at least on its own merits. It’s a style that took extreme metal in fresh and interesting directions 20-25 years ago, but since then the quality has varied wildly. Those albums that merge a melodeath core with other styles of influences are often the most rewarding: those that combine it with other flavours of extreme metal like Wolfheart, darker, doomier offerings as in Insomnium, or bands who take it in more progressive and/or symphonic directions like Witherscape, Shade Empire or Into Eternity. Straightforward melodic death metal has shown a stubborn refusal to evolve over the decades, and a band has a lot of work to do to make it leave an impact in 2020.
US band The Last Reign are going to give it their best shot with their second full-length release, Evolution. Wearing its intentions and influences on its sleeve, it’s an album of unabashed melodeath through and through. It leans onto the rougher side of things, the vocals consistently harsh as they shift between higher shrieks and lower-pitched snarls, the vibe always one of aggression and force. Last Reign utilise their share of breakdowns and some of the sort of melodies you might hear on some of the fiercer metalcore bands, but at this stage the line is muddied between whether that’s a sign of such bands influencing Last Reign, or simply a conveyance of how melodeath steered the direction of melodic metalcore in the first place.
Nothing on show here is downright unpleasant, but it certainly suffers from a lot of repetitiveness, both within the album and the wider genre as a whole. A band can get away with doing something that isn’t particularly innovative if it’s done well enough, but here it strikes too many of the same blows we’ve seen from countless other artists. Each track is enjoyable enough at first, there are certainly some kickass melodies or riffs here and there (like the up-beat vibe of “The Hourglass” or the full throttle eruption of “Evolution of a Decaying Race”), but after 30 seconds or so you’ve probably heard everything each track has to offer and, contrary to the album’s title, there’s very little evolution within them. Most every song just moves forward at the genre-typical mid-pace, throwing in a breakdown every so often. “The Storm” starts with some promisingly thrashy sounds, but quickly just moves back into the safe, familiar territory. “No Horizon” is just a sloppy mess, haphazardly mingling Running Wild melodies and classic metal gallops with superfluous blast beats and some of the weaker vocal delivery on the album. It feels like a track that really doesn’t know what it wants to be, a badly mixed album trailer more than a coherent song.
The album is also apparently a sci-fi concept album, but again, the lack of real development or shifts in pacing throughout the songs hinder this: a story, even more so than music, needs to have some kind of advancement and change.
The conclusion here is a simple one: if you’re a big melodeath fan and happy to devour more of it, you could certainly do worse than Evolution. It’s competent at what it sets out to be. But if, like me, you need something more added to the mix to make it worthwhile, you won’t find anything of real value here.