MYRATH – Karma (Album Review)

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The fact that Myrath have modified their logo should tell you everything you need to know about “Karma”. This is, after all, a move metal bands historically have made when they shift musical gears. The Big Four all did it. Dream Theater did it. In Flames did it. And they have nearly universally signaled a serious downgrade in quality. Fortunately, “Karma” is not the betrayal “Risk” was. But it is a very clear turn away from the progressive Arabian power metal they’ve been dishing out since they realized they could do better than ape Symphony X. “Karma” sees Myrath toning down the Maghrebi flair that has been such a huge part of their identity, and bolstering their arena rock vibes in its stead. The Orphaned Lite sound has been supplanted by a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding flavor of pop metal, and while it is certainly a puzzling turn for prog and folk metal diehards, it isn’t a bad move in and of itself. But some of the strategies behind the move do raise some questions.

We notice right off the bat that “Karma” offers no string-laden, frame drum-propelled folk intro in the vein of “Asl” or “Jasmin.” Instead, “To the Stars” opens with Malek Ben Arbia chugging a quite simple, overdriven two-chord riff that fairly soon gives way to the Arab strings we’ve come to expect from this Tunisian quintet. Clocking in at under four minutes, it is a catchy and frenetic tune that will surely have me driving at unwise rates of speed, its unnecessary outro notwithstanding. “Into the Light” follows in all the splendor befitting Myrath‘s legacy, complete with its cinematic interlude, dramatic piano flourishes by the band’s now sole keyboardist Kevin Codfert,  and frontman extraordinaire Zaher Zorgati‘s singing really bringing the house down. This song is an instant classic in the Myrath repertoire, and metalheads who were lucky enough to catch this band on the Eurofest circuit or at Progpower USA last year have personal knowledge that this song fucking kills in the live setting.

Candles Cry” and “Let It Go” relive cheesy 80s hard rock glory while wisely keeping both the production and the hairstyles rooted in the present day, and  “Words Are Failing” sees the band honoring their identity while toying with contemporary pop melodies and production pizazz, most noticeably in the leadup to the refrains where the auto-tune on Zorgati‘s voice is most obvious. No one should let themselves be fooled here: the autotune is there purely for lustre and in no way detracts from Zorgati‘s very obvious ability to hit those notes on his own. My concern has more to do with Myrath potentially falling into traps they themselves set by chasing the bandwagon. Regardless of how successful these flirtations with mainstream trappings are, they’re pretty blatant, right down to the at times fake-sounding orchestrations and that uncomfortably AI-looking cover art. How much does a very real band get to use fake sounds, fake singing, and fake paintings before it affects their legitimacy? Are these things actually fake at all? Is Myrath deliberately fucking with its audience by actually performing these things and making them sound and look synthesized? These are not questions I am prepared to address, but the implications do trouble me.

What doesn’t trouble me is “The Wheel of Time,” where we hear Mr. Ben Arbia sling some sick bluesy flavor and Mr. Zorgati sings some of the most memorable hooks on “Karma.” This cut also includes some of the ballsiest lyrics I’ve heard escape Zorgati‘s lips, where he sings of praying to “other gods.” By all accounts, Tunisia is pretty lax for a nation that bears the Islamic crescent on its flag, but such a bold line could sadly land him in some serious shit in other parts of the Muslim world, even if it is just a freaking rock song. I hope that none of that comes his, or anyone’s, way.

“Karma” Artwork

Some fake-sounding strings resurface on “Child of Prophecy,” most prominently at the intro. The song is masterfully written and performed and features some furious hand drumming throughout as well as one of the album’s greatest refrains. But as much as I hate admitting this, the are-they-or-aren’t-they-real nature of the strings bothers me almost enough to keep me from enjoying this cut for its songwriting merits, which is ultimately the most important thing in music. Fortunately, the comparatively stripped “Heroes” swoops in later to remind us that for all of Myrath‘s Mediterranean panache, they’re at heart a fucking metal band with plenty of furious riffing, soaring singing, and endorphin-rushing rage in them, even with Codfert gracefully tinkling those ivories.

“Karma” wraps up with “Carry On,” a dramatic burner that often sounds like it could have been on “Return to Heaven Denied” even while Zorgati offers some of his only distinctly Arab singing on the album. The strings sound especially organic in much of this cut compared to the rest of the record, and this frankly fantabulous song suffers very little from Myrath‘s self-imposed pop restraints – it opens and ends with unaccompanied vocals, a common trope in popular music but rare in metal. But that abrupt ending does lend a feeling of incompleteness to “Karma.”

It’s a killer tune right up until then, but just stopping the way it does offers absolutely no feeling of resolution. It took me several repeated listens to finally figure out where the album ended, and that only happened because I happened to glance at my device as the song “concluded.” Rather than offer bold punctuation to declare that this is Myrath‘s New Sound, the song merely ends with a disappointing whimper, a question mark rather than a period. “So, uh,” it asks. “Did it work?”

And that’s the crux of “Karma.” At their core, the songs are strong, and the performances from all the musicians involved honor that strength. However, the arrangements are sure to ignite more than a few arguments. Does stripping a song down to its bare essentials do a greater service to that song? Or does the song deserve all the flourish the songwriters believe will take the listener on a memorable journey? Informed listeners will disagree on this point, and none of them will be wrong. But this is the path Myrath have taken on the first record of the post-Elyes Bouchoucha era, and I hope that these Berberians remain vigilant and cautious as they explore poppier territories.

Released By: earMusic
Release Date: March 8th, 2023
Genre: Heavy Metal

Band Members:

  • Malek Ben Arbia / Guitar
  • Anis Jouini / Bass
  • Zaher Zorgati / Vocals
  • Morgan Berthet / Drums
  • Kevin Codfert / Keyboards

Karma track-listing:

  1. To the Stars
  2. Into the Light
  3. Candles Cry      
  4. Let It Go
  5. Words Are Failing
  6. The Wheel of Time
  7. Temple Walls
  8. Child of Prophecy
  9. The Empire
  10. Heroes
  11. Carry On

Order the album HERE

8.3 Great

Less a departure than a detour, Myrath's latest wisely keeps the band's core sound intact while stripping away a fair but not critical chunk of what has made this band stand out over the past several records. “Karma” is far from being a duplicitous affair like “Turbo” or “Cold Lake,” but like those records, it is guilty of eyeballing what's fashionable in the mainstream and deeming it worthy of pursuit.

There is a high probability that “Karma” will be regarded as Myrath's Black Album: a streamlined and polished offering that is pivotal to both the band's career and to the development of neophyte metalheads, but held in relative disdain by a sizable chunk of their following. And like the Black Album, it is not nearly as knavish or dishonest as the elitists out there might have you believe.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7
  • Production 8

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