Release: 9 November 2019
Label: Limb Music
Being a fan of the darker shift in tone of Minotaurus’s previous effort Insolubilis I was excited to see how their new album would turn out. All in all, despite a few weak spots and a change in the focus of the songwriting to emphasize the lyrics on most songs, Victims of the Underworld keeps the melancholy of its predecessor while venturing into new musical territory as a natural progression in the band’s lyrical delivery.
Minotaurus has always had a storyteller feel to their songs since their inception. Unlike Blind Guardian whose bardic associations are mostly meta-commentary on eclectic subject-matter and image, Minotaurus straight-up takes stories and adapts them as faithfully as is possible in a way reminiscent of the stereotypical wandering minstrel. On this album, Minotaurus has fully embraced their lyrics as the greater focus, and have decided to write the music to supplement their vocal deliveries. It isn’t unheard of for bands to take this approach. But when the guitars are all but muted, and when they show up ape the exact notation of the vocals without adding anything the approach begins to weigh down the music. While the vocals redeem the quality of the music and even do well establishing an atmosphere, on most songs the instruments are barely audible other than the odd chord (if that much) such as seen on “Born from Roots”, “Never Surrender”, and “Raven’s Flight”. While the songwriting is the focus here it must be said the vocals themselves are brilliant, making the songs atmospheres sound miserable, melancholic and forlorn all by themselves in lieu of any other instruments. As for the lyrics they are simple and catchy, but on tracks like “Barker’s Revenge”, and “Raven’s Flight” sound a bit too much like old AOR songwriting. Before getting to the starchy substance that makes this album a worthwhile successor to Minotaurus’s previous output, let me explain why the classic rock approach is a bit off-putting. Take the Heidevolk song “There’s a Wolf in My Heart”, arguably a more rock oriented song. Imagine the entire song being that first few lines of the song where there’s nothing but the drums, monotonous backing riff, and Lars Vogel singing – imagine that for 3 minutes and one may be able to see why the “lyrics über alles” mentality might be problematic.
However, even though on certain heavier tracks the guitars fade out when the lyrics kick in,the general attack of the chords on tracks like “Thor I’m Calling You”, the melodic leads on “Immorality”, and the chugging the eponymous track leaves for more than enough traditional sounding Minotaurus. The two high points of this album are “Demon of the Forest” which is an excellent return to the dark tone of the previous album, and “Victims of the Underworld”, which features a highpoint in the instrumental aspect of the songwriting where near the end, the Violins and Guitars hammer out frenzied notes in unison that feels dissonant in an eerie way and adds to the song. There would be a lot of praise for even some of the songs that muted the instruments for the vocals to dominate, mostly because of the excellently written leads the other instruments got when they had the chance. However those moments of brilliance were like firecrackers to the fireworks mentioned here, and mentioning them all would take too long.
With Victims of the Underworld there are a lot of musical subtleties to take in, and may take more than one listen to fully appreciate. Minotaurus’s new emphasis on the vocals is an acquired taste, much like some of the lyrics themselves. But the excellence of the vocal techniques employed will no doubt please anybody who enjoys good singing, but by no means does that entail a poppy approach. The entire album was written with the same melancholy that brought fans Insolubilis and Victims of the Underworld is a worthy spiritual successor marking an interesting evolution in the band’s musical direction.