I don’t know about you, but if you ask me, playing metal shouldn’t be complicated. Have a vocalist who can sing in tune, play a few riffs that stick in your head… stick a song together and voila. Oh, sure, specific styles require a certain amount of musical skill – but these are obviously exceptions to the rule.
Tad Morose, too, realized that keeping things simple often works best… except that in this case it doesn’t. Matters of the Dark sounds extremely stripped down when compared to the surrounding albums and while this should be fine in theory, I’m having a hard time sitting through it. The band’s songwriting formula has become predictable here; you’ve got a speedier track here, a groove-esque tune there and everything ranges from 3 to 5 minutes. Forget about adventurous epics, ballads of emotional weight or climaxes that will surprise you for the best; once you’ve heard the first 3 songs you can pretty much guess that the rest of the album will follow suit.
The songs live and die by the choruses and with a few exceptions here and there, it’s only the vocals that make Matters of the Dark appealing. The combination of Urban Breed’s skill and imagination makes him stand out once more; be it thanks to his swaggering bark, some blistering high notes or a memorable chorus. The weak link is Christer Andersson; most of the time some simplistic rhythm section supports the vocals and to me, this is a wasted opportunity. Occasionally he manages to conjure some thick grooves, releases some hard-hitting palm-muted chugs or plays some speedy riffs, but even then his riffs hardly result into worthy songs. You’ve got the generic up-tempo cuts like “I Know Your Name”, snooze groove such as “Don’t Pray for Me”, a been-there-done-that angry mid-paced affair by the name of “New Clear Skies”… you name it.
A few tracks stand out, even if they’re hardly on the same level as the highlights of Undead or Modus Vivendi. In fact, Matters of the Dark starts off rather well; “Sword of Retribution” has the advantage of alternating between these mean verses and a hopeful chorus; while the riffs aren’t of any top-class by any means, they put the right amount of drive to it. The rousing title track rules as well and it’s clearly faster than anything that you could find on Undead. It features a certain amount of nasty riffing that I absolutely approve of, even though I could have done without the guest vocals. I also have a soft spot for “Riding the Beast”, which owes its success to a memorable, yet clearly melodic riff and the track also features a heartfelt solo between Urban Breed’s commanding vocal shouts; making it the best example of the vocal-oriented tunes on the album.
I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about the rest of Matters of the Dark, but no matter how hard I try, the remaining songs sounds sound far less inspired to me. Oh, the choruses of “Ethereal Soul”, “New Clear Skies” and “Don’t Pray for Me” sound a lot of fun, but I wish I could say the same about the actual songs. Yet, the worst offenders would be “Reason of the Ghost” and “The Devil’s Finger”. Both tracks feature some creepy guitar lines that are surprising at least, but otherwise start to drag on quickly and considering the short length of these tracks that’s almost an accomplishment! The former only starts to pick up after the three minute mark with a juicy melodic riff, even if Urban Breed starts to repeat the song title in case you forgot what the track was called and the latter recalls Urban Breed telling a story that was made up at the last minute with no catchy hook, quality riff, or addictive chorus in sight.
To sum it up: Matters of the Dark is the kind of stuff that you’d sing along to in the shower, but not something that makes you bang your head out of joy and excitement. The highlights could have worked just fine as an EP, but in its entirely, Matters of the Dark is clearly the weakest album from the band’s early 00’s era.
Score: 60/100 – Oversimplified
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