Review: “Dead Mother Moon” by Upon Stone

San Fernando Valley California might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think about Melodic Death Metal bands but Upon Stone started to change that when they delivered their debut EP “Where Wild Sorrows Grow” in October 2021. That record was one that earned them a few opportunities and once they’d made their live debut in January of 2022 supporting Japan’s Kruelty they didn’t look back, subsequently sharing stages with the likes of Unearth, Bewitcher and Creeping Death while citing influences in genre pioneers like At The Gates, In Flames and Dissection. All of that of course led to them landing a deal with Century Media for their debut album “Dead Moon Mother“, wrapped in artwork from Andreas Marschall (Dimmu Borgir, In Flames) and once again produced and mixed by Taylor Young at The Pit (Twitching Tongues, Nails)…

Galloping towards death with their swords raised and ready to strike, Upon Stone set an electric pace for their debut album with the title track “Dead Mother Moon“, the caustic calls of vocalist and bassist Xavier Wahlberg the cries of a plague ridden demonic beast from the under verse. Blackened and bruised with blast beats from Wyatt Bentley, the band awaken the dead with the scorching solo, the sharper end of the early 90’s Scandinavian underground scene the primary influence. Perhaps it’s the guitar work but for some reason “Onyx Through the Heart” reminds of 2003 American Metalcore and “The Curse” era Atreyu as underneath the sheer sonic weight of distortion there is a rich melody as well as another ripper of a flamboyant solo. Fortunately it doesn’t however have any clean vocals, Wahlberg preferring to give us a more emotive throat splitting unclean instead. Not that we’re not fans of clean vocals, not a bit of it, just that they wouldn’t work in the context of this sonic abrasion. The riffs keep coming with lethal intent as “My Destiny; a Weapon” takes hold like the teeth and jaws of an alligator, Wahlberg offering a deeper hitherto unheard death growl to complement his usual shriller bark on this one. An almost ethereal moment, rich in melancholic atmosphere closes out the track nicely while acting as something of a moment of clarity.

The baton is passed to “Dusk Sang Fairest“, a cut which once again has a rich melody with stunning leads however they have been cleverly dulled down with the abrasive sound of the rhythm guitars. That minds that listening for them is like listening for her ghost in the fog, both challenging and rewarding at the same time; an acoustic melody which feels almost medieval then rises to the surface to in the final third before the sucker punch of the final verse. It’s either genius or utter madness depending on where you stand because they’re not going to be able to carry it off live without using a backing track. “Paradise Failed” finds the band joined by Brain Fair of Shadows Fall who it has to be said is the perfect foil for Wahlberg when he delivers his unexpected unclean verse. That’s followed by a majestic extended solo before a whammy bar moment that makes this one an air guitar lovers dream. Expanding on the ideas of their previous acoustic moments, interlude piece “Nocturnalism” offers a moment of tranquillity before the onslaught of the final trinity of cuts and is genuinely the calm before the storm.

To Seek and Follow the Call of Lions” attacks with razor sharp teeth, the vicious vocal performance standing above slick leads and a pulverising kit performance. It’s almost like Young has taken a leaf out of the book of Black Metal with the mixing, something which works incredibly well for Upon Stone as it gives their music distinctive edge. Once again the solos soar like eagles, the band not afraid of keeping their music vibrant despite the darker lyrical narratives of isolation, loss, the search for meaning, and a return to strength shrouded in mysticism and the occult. Restless and relentless Bentley puts in arguably his most inventive performance behind the kit on “The Lantern” while the syncopated leads from  Ronny Marks and Gage Goss on this one would put the band in similar territory to Trivium. The majesty of this epic piece makes you wonder whether they’d have greater success if they had a cleaner, crisper sound or whether the charm in distortion is what separates them from the wolves baying for blood. Their final trick in the book is a cover of “Dig Up Her Bones” by Horror Punks Misfits which they impose their own style on with a crunchy guitar tone and a beer drinkers gang chanted chorus that will go down a storm live… [7/10]

Track Listing

  1. Dead Mother Moon
  2. Onyx Through the Heart
  3. My Destiny; a Weapon
  4. Dusk Sang Fairest
  5. Paradise Failed (ft. Brain Fair of Shadows Fall)
  6. Nocturnalism
  7. To Seek and Follow the Call of Lions
  8. The Lantern
  9. Dig Up Her Bones (Misfits cover)

Dead Mother Moon” by Upon Stone is out 19th January 2024 via Century Media

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