(High Roller 2017)
Mythra are one of the true feel-good stories in heavy metal today. They were there in the late 1970s, at the forefront of that exciting, powerful, magical movement known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They released a seminal and very successful EP, Death and Destiny, way back in 1979. There were some demo recordings between 1979 and 1981, but for whatever reason things never seemed to take off for Mythra. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top, at least not right away. The band was mothballed for many years, but reactivated after the turn of the millennium. Mythra’s fortunes changed for the better in 2015 with the release of their Warriors of Time anthology on Skol Records. This superb compilation not only collected all the band’s classic early recordings in one place, with a fresh mastering job courtesy of Bart Gabriel, but also added five brand-new songs proving that Mythra were alive and well, as much a force to be reckoned with in 2015 as they were in 1979. One of those new tunes, “The Best is Yet to Come,” sounded like a mission statement, a promise to their fans and themselves.
True to their word, Mythra built on their newfound momentum by writing a fistful of new songs and journeying to Poland last fall to record them under Gabriel’s watchful eye. The end product of this endeavor is Still Burning. The album title says it all, really. Mythra are not limping along. They are not some tired old band trading in past glories. No, they are a vibrant, incendiary beast, still burning with inspiration and passion for their music. In fact, these songs prove the fire in Mythra’s belly burns brighter and hotter than ever. Don’t misunderstand me: Mythra aren’t trying to sound modern or latch on to the trend du jour. They know exactly what they are, and they make no pretense of being anything else. What that means is the 12 songs on offer are pure, undiluted NWOBHM gems that fit in with the more energetic/aggressive strands of that movement. These cuts would have sounded great in 1979, and they sound great today. They fit comfortably alongside the Death and Destiny material, in terms of style and attitude, without coming across as cheap retreads. That gets back to my point about inspiration. This record was made for the right reasons, not to fulfill a contract or make some quick dosh (does anybody do that with records anymore?) but because the band had something to say, both musically and lyrically. The twin guitars of John Roach and Alex Perry dance and weave magically through the songs, the rhythm section of Maurice Bates (bass) and Phil Davies (drums) thunders away, and vocalist Vince High wears his heart on his sleeve as he belts out every lyric with a fiercely emotional delivery that has drawn favorable comparisons to a young Paul Di’Anno. (I also would liken his bellowing timbre to Meliah Rage’s Mike Munro if that helps.)
The tracklisting of Still Burning is strewn with highlights, showing remarkable versatility and yet remaining cohesively under the NWOBHM banner. If I had to pick one song that encapsulates everything Mythra are about, I’d give the nod to “Sands of Time,” a nearly 6-minute track that begins with a gentle guitar-and-vocals intro before giving way to a classic galloping main riff and a magnificent vocal from High. The well-conceived lyrics dwell on the passage of time and the importance of making every moment count. “Just don’t waste it, embrace it.” There is real wisdom in those words, and Mythra are practicing what they preach. Another song destined to become a fan favorite is first single and video track, “A Call to All,” a sub-three minute ditty that is ridiculously infectious. Not only do I find myself walking around the house singing it to myself, but I hear my wife doing so too. If melodic heavy metal received radio play in 2017 (which I know it doesn’t), it’s no stretch to think that “A Call to All” could break out, cross over, and really connect with mainstream rock and metal fans outside our dedicated underground circle. There’s something really universal and uniting about it. “Battle Cry,” “Still Burning” (what an amazing dual-lead section!), “Ride the Storm” … the glorious songs just keep on coming. Not only are all of these tracks awesome for headbanging, air-guitaring, fist-in-the-air bliss, but they make you think too. Vince High is a gifted lyricist with a penchant for positivity. He sings about self-empowerment, belief in one’s self, overcoming adversity, chasing one’s dreams, rejecting hate, and being good to other people. If that’s not a prescription for living well, then I don’t know what is.
We’re not even halfway through the year, and 2017 has already set the bar very high indeed for traditional / true metal releases. With Still Burning, Mythra have forced their way into the album-of-the-year conversation. For fans of Death and Destiny or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, in general, this is a mandatory purchase. But the appeal of Still Burning goes beyond that niche. This record is chock full of heartfelt, honest, classy heavy metal that balances the steadying hand of experience against the burning flame of inspiration. And that’s something we all can and should support.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~