Pitch Black Records have recently acquired Danish melodic death metal group Illnath, who released their third studio album in November 2011. Third Act in the Theatre of Madness takes a more melodic apprach over Illnath’s previous releases, and with a new contingent of musicians (Mona Beck – vocals, Kenneth Frandsen – bass, and session drummer Reno Killerich) joining original guitarist Pete Falk, Illnath add another unique voice to the Swedish melodic metal scene.
Since Angela Gossow made it mainstream, female-fronted death metal bands are nothing new, and it’s not enough for female extreme vocalists to simply coast along on novelty factor anymore. Mona Beck demonstrates she’s got the chops, with an impressive vocal performance throughout the album. She sounds suitably guttural, sometimes deep and menacing, other times screeching like a banshee. It’s only during spoken word passages you get a hint of feminity lurking within.
I find the lyrics I deciphered a little off-putting. It seems as if Illnath have based this album around the struggle of producing a third album, with a lot of self-referential lines depicting the writing process and not-so-subtly alluding to the five year wait since their last album. In more experienced hands this might have come across as quite clever, but the phrases seem too visually literal to draw more than a cringe.
Female or male vocals aside, I am always more of a fan of “growled” death vocals over Beck’s screeching style, and I would’ve rather heard more of the deep vocals on this album, to bring it down into a darker place. Falk’s guitar work – particularly on songs like “Spring Will Come” and “Snake of Eden” – gives a strong nod to the Swedish metal style of legends like Michael Arnott. Galloping or down-picked rhythm guitars lay on a heavy groove, and the songs are drawn out with spoken word passages, death metal breakdowns, nods to progressive structures and symphonic keyboard elements. Many of the riffs and melodies sound like they’re inspired by popular European power metal songs.
While this all sounds interesting in theory, the truth is – I found it hard to get into this album. Despite some intense vocals and the skillful guitars, I found each song blended into the next, and the symphonic elements dragged the album down rather than adding anything to the music. Third Act in the Theatre of Madness would interest those who enjoy Swedish death , who are crazy about female extreme vocalists, are who want to hear an album by a group of talented musicians who haven’t got it quite right.