Upon Stone – Dead Mother Moon (Century Media)

Monday, 29th January 2024
Rating: 9 / 10

Last year boasted some of the best melodic death metal to surface in some time, to the delight of these veteran ears. Newbies Majesties blasted off faces with Vast Reaches Unclaimed, and the legendary and criminally underrated Night in Gales putting out my album of the year in The Black Stream. The year of 2024 is looking promising, with a number of releases slated throughout the calendar from both legendary acts and new generations. Then, we happened upon a band by the name of Upon Stone. This four piece from Los Angeles have been around since 2021, dropping an EP in Where Wild Sorrows Grow that garnered enough attention to land on Century Media Records. Having somehow not previously listened to said EP (well worth checking out), there was no inclination of what to expect from Dead Mother Moon. It only took about a minute for these dudes to have our undivided attention.

Where the members of Majesties lean into their own black metal roots within their melodic death metal stylings, Upon Stone dive deeply into the death metal side of Lunar Strain era In Flames and The Red in the Sky Is Ours At the Gates with determination. The production feels intentionally rough around the edges and gritty, without a sign of polish that may otherwise take away from the sound they’re out to capture. The opening salvo is also the title track, beginning with a flurry of pointed galloping guitar riffs and quickly fingered leads. Once the harmonies kick in, Upon Stone knows the listener is within their grasp. When the echoing clean bridge slows the pace before the monstrous finish, there’s no turning back.

Continuing with “Onyx Through the Heart,” breakneck rhythms and snappy lead guitars are in full control as the song glides into Doc Brown’s Delorean to early 90s Gothenburg. That uncompromising crunch is so integral to nailing down this sound, and do they ever have it. “My Destiny; a Weapon” continues down this path, highlighted by solos that cut deeply abridged with delectable licks, all ending on a clean guitar/synth outro. “Dusk Sang Fairest” breaks out weeping twin harmonies and a more measured pace, allowing the listener a little time to soak in swaths of glorious melody, harkening back to the days of Whoracle.

Shadows Fall’s Brian Fair lends his pipes to the expeditious “Paradise Failed” – a track that unironically draws a level of influence from the guest’s early works. Dead Mother Moon ends with “The Lantern”; the longest track on offer, and also the most diverse. From enormous riffs, transitioning to a pensive interlude, and a full-on flood of guitar-driven tremolo magic, this track tattoos itself into the ear canal. Taylor Young’s production work also needs another mention, as this sort of raw and gritty sound profile is exactly what Dead Mother Moon needed, as opposed to a slicker and cleaner feel.

Young acts displaying such an affinity for this style of music is refreshing. Dead Mother Moon is an energetic romp of coarse, gritty  melodic death metal of which most aren’t creating at such a proficiency these days. We do wish it was a tad longer – both because of how enjoyable it is, but also barely cracking the thirty-minute mark, including a cover of Misfits’ “Dig Up Her Bones.” Nevertheless, this album is going to be on the tongues of a ton of folks, and with good reason. While Majesties may be this writer’s favorite new old school melodeath act, Upon Stone are right there beside them, and that’s not a position to take lightly. In both cases, the potential is limitless.

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