I’ve touched on many albums in my time as a reviewer that have made me end with something like “I don’t really like this, but you should listen to it anyway.” Usually I’ll tack that onto a style I’m less familiar with, or something that displays solid ideas with execution that didn’t sit right with me. But man, Midnight Priest have brought me to a total stalemate, being one of the hardest examples for me to explain, ever. Why? Because their newest effort Aggressive Hauntings is done in a heavy/speed metal style that I’m super familiar with, and it does everything correctly, yet after numerous listens I’m having a hard time digging it.
Indeed, Midnight Priest could not be blunter with their Judas Priest influence on this album. Their older efforts rang in more King Diamond effects that still come through here, but not nearly as strong. And as tough as this one is, I found it to be better than the previous two. But like I said, this is everything it should be. Speed metal riffs, strong melodies, and concise falsettos, all served on an easy thirty-five-minute platter. So what the fuck is wrong with it?
Truth be told, I think a lot of this lies in the fact that it’s too on-the-nose, too predictable, thus not really interesting nor memorable. “Holy Flesh” is littered from top to bottom with harmonics and riffing sequences that sound way too close to “Painkiller.” Even though this album doesn’t do that the whole way through, the other songs don’t step very far from it. “Ecstasy” has a calmer presence to it, but the track make-up itself is literally no different.
It also doesn’t help that the vocals here aren’t really my favorite. Again, Aggressive Hauntings is entirely too dense with the Painkiller cloning. But the variation that Halford had on that isn’t present, and after a while it gets so tiring. The title track and “Funeral” are fair exceptions to this, because the buildup-type patterns and shifts in tone help them stand apart from everything else. So I’ll give Midnight Priest credit for starting off pretty strong. “Iron Heart” is another big one because it’s the only one to have a unique approach. The tone is soothing, the vocals are different, there’s harmony, and I can honestly say I love this song.
What it really comes down to is that Aggressive Hauntings is way too safe and does almost nothing to give itself an identity of its own. Like I said, this style is one that’s basically a second language to me, and they nail every aspect of it. But maybe songwriting that isn’t so one-dimensional would be a big help? Even implementing the tiniest touch of originality can take something so much further. Do not take my word for it though; all fans of speed or traditional metal should give this at least one listen, if not more. And if you don’t understand what I mean, compare it to the works of Enforcer, Haunt, Vanik, or Seax. Same idea at the bottom, but far more interesting in my humblest of opinions. I really hope Midnight Priest keep going, because they display some serious talent.
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