Artist: Upon Stone
Album Title: Dead Mother Moon
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 19 January 2024
I’m late to this particular party, for which I apologise. However, had it not been for a sudden influx of social media posts referencing this album, I’d probably still be none the wiser. Despite being released on one of the biggest labels in the world of metal, it completely slipped past me unnoticed. And that, as it turns out, would have been a huge shame, for this is an album that’s worthy of a little exploration.
First though, some background. Based upon the music that assaults your ears on this record, you’d probably make the immediate assumption that the band were from Sweden, perhaps Gothenburg to be precise, maybe Stockholm at a push. However, rather surprisingly, Upon Stone are an American entity from the San Fernando Valley, California, who formed as recently as 2021. The surprise is because Upon Stone have unleashed a debut full-length album in the form of ‘Dead Mother Moon’ that is pure melodic death metal worship, that harkens back to the halcyon days of the mid-90s when the likes of In Flames, At The Gates, and many others were making waves in Scandinavia, and leaving an indelible impression on yours truly.
Indeed, within the press release for ‘Dead Mother Moon’ that I found languishing unread in my inbox, the band’s drummer, Wyatt Bentley, is quoted as saying: “We hope that it’s a gateway for people to go back and discover albums like ‘The Jester Race’ and ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’. I want it to matter to a new generation in the same way those records did for us.”
As such, the band, completed by vocalist/bassist Xavier Wahlberg, and guitarist Ronny Marks and Gage Goss, are not shy in pinning their particular influences to the mast, citing the likes of In Flames, At The Gates, Children Of Bodom, and Dissection as “the gold standard” no less.
The more I listen to ‘Dead Mother Moon’, the more impressed I become. Right down to the artwork created by Andreas Marschall, who was responsible for the artwork on ‘The Jester Race’. This record is a homage to the quartet’s musical heroes, the bands that they grew up listening to as teenagers and who clearly still hold a sway over them as they start their own musical career. There will be some listeners out there who will dismiss Upon Stone as a clone, and a band that offer nothing new to the melodic death metal scene. And, to an extent, they might be correct. After all, we’re all entitled to our opinions, whatever they might be.
However, I’d counter this view by suggesting that there is definitely a place for some good old nostalgia, especially when the end result is as good as this is. I will not even try to deceive you by suggesting that ‘Dead Mother Moon’ doesn’t sound like a parallel ‘The Jester Race’ in many respects, or that it doesn’t contain echoes of other greats along the way. Because it does. And when you’re a fan of this album, and this musical movement in general, as much as I am, there’s something about hearing new music that channels all that magic once again. No, it’s not new, but it is excellent.
The production, handled by Taylor Young, has that raw, gritty quality that immediately recalls the old days, which suits the music very well indeed. And it doesn’t take long at all for the full force of Upon Stone to be unleashed within the confines of this mix. The opening track is the title track and it’s thunderous, full of aggression, and spite, albeit channelled in exactly the right way. The guitar riffs are dirty but immediately catchy, the bass surprisingly muscular, and the drumming at points is utterly devastating, especially when Bentley unleashes his bulldozing blast beats at points. You can definitely hear early In Flames as the song really gathers momentum. The vocals of Xavier Wahlberg are caustic, higher-register growls, almost verging on screams but regardless, as the song develops, it builds the melodic intent. After a frantic opening, we’re treated to a wailing lead guitar solo, and then, out of nowhere, everything falls away to allow an atmospheric passage to emerge, led by a clean guitar melody. That melody is then deployed within the ensuing tumult to fabulous effect, making it an immediate hit right out of the gate.
‘Onyx Through The Heart’ continues with the no-nonsense aggression, pummelling the ears from the outset. However, again, the riffs that emerge are much groovier and more measured, creating a real immediacy to the music, an immediacy that is then allowed to grow through repeated spins, in spite of the full-on attack and blazing instrumentalism. Then, to alter the modus operandi just a little, there are full-on quiet moments of atmospheric splendour such as that found at the close of ‘My Destiny; A Weapon’. And then there are is a track like ‘Dusk Sang Fairest’ which features an almost waltz-like opening melody that sways along in whimsical fashion, but is one of the most ear-catching on the entire album, especially with the serene acoustic mid-section that is simply gorgeous. It’s not ‘The Jester’s Dance’, but this song along with that mis-song section summons the ghost of this song in the back of my mind.
Upon Stone can boast the assistance of Shadows Fall within ‘Paradise Failed’, offer another quiet, contemplative moment in the form of the interlude piece, ‘Nocturnalism’, and close out the album proper with the masterful ‘The Lantern’, the longest composition on what is a very succinct and direct record in general. It is allowed to play around with atmospheres a lot more than some of the more direct tracks, taking time to explore a greater use of synths, more dramatic twists and turns, as well as some wonderfully catchy riffing when the pace is slowed at points.
The final word goes to (in my opinion) a slightly unnecessary bonus track cover in the form of ‘Dig Up Her Bones’ by The Misfits, thus diluting the brilliance of ‘The Lantern’ a touch. However, this minor quibble aside, there is very little else to find fault with on ‘Dead Mother Moon’. It is the album that I, as a fan of melodic death metal since very nearly the beginning, didn’t realise that I wanted or needed. But now that I’ve heard it and have played it obsessively these last few days, I can tell you that it is absolutely fantastic. Short, sharp, powerful, and clearly created with love, care, and affection for the music that has so influenced them, ‘Dead Mother Moon’ is pure, unadulterated nostalgia in the best of ways. If you like old-school melodic death metal, this is an absolute no-brainer.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%