Night in Gales’ “Five Scars” touts itself as one of this year’s finest efforts in melodic death metal. That’s both true and not true.
Where “Five Scars” succeeds is in precision. Every note is timed perfectly, the measures attaching together like links of a long, unified chain. The drums of “This Neon Grave” alone should serve as testament to the band’s dedication to timed perfection.
As the album rolls forward from that beginning, the execution remains at a high caliber, as the song elements of the title track are similarly precise and the breakdown is placed exactly where it should be.
There are highlighted moments on “Five Scars,” including the wonderful contrast of mid-range blast beat and tuneful, accessible guitar on the back half of “Whiteout.” It is in these composition moments when Night in Gales uses their best assets to the fullest, layering eminently recognizable elements on top of harsher tones to create a feeling of artfully explosive metal. “Life Denied” is the album’s most cohesive and best cut, but mostly because it combines all the aforementioned elements in proper balance, rather than introducing anything new.
That fact is part of the faltering of “Five Scars.” The album is so balanced and thought-out that it does not conjure any sort of pure feeling. While the album is highly melodic, it is hardly rhythmic. The production is remarkably fragile, no doubt in an effort to emphasize the crunchy guitar fidelity and the percussive exactness. What “Five Scars” gives up in that trade is the shadowy roughness around the edges that Western audiences so often find appealing. Even the throwdowns in songs like “Endtrip” sound thin and lack punch. The gang choruses in “Void Venture” and select other cuts are a nice touch, but feel compulsory and artificial. It bears noting that the cut “Blackmouth Blues,” has very little evident blues influence.
Ultimately, there’s not a lot to say about “Five Scars” because it is what it is. This is a European death metal album that’s high on so-called decimal point accuracy (to steal a term from engineering,) but low on emotion and void of spontaneity. If looking solely for a musical experience that’s a textbook example of how death metal should be arranged, then by all means spin Night in Gales’ new record. If you’re a listener who prefers a little more soul food in their metal, you’re probably better off passing.