Temnein - Tales: Of Humanity and Greed (Cover Artwork)


Tales: Of Humanity and Greed (2020)

Heartsick/Blood Blast

Being introduced, as I was, to melodic death metal some time after I began listening to death metal in its original incarnation, I always felt that it should be something that I would find incredibly easy to listen to. I like metalcore and some of its more anthemic tropes, I like most Scandinavian takes on the metal genres I listen to, so a scene emerging from Gothenburg (and the UK, to maybe a lesser extent) that also happened in my lifetime (less likely to have the impenetrable production of first/second-wave black metal bands) sounded like a gift-wrapped opportunity to expand my listening even further into the metal sub-genres. But then I started delving into it. There seemed to be a real penchant for swords and sorcery, NWOBHM galloping and in the case of some leading lights of the scene like Amon Amarth, a sense that the theme or visual aesthetic is (at least) as important as the music. It could be argued that Death, Cannibal Corpse or Blood Incantation also rely heavily on imagery, but this was a whole different ball game. Digging one step further, you find bands like Finntroll (who describe their music as ‘trollish hoedown metal’…) and Korpiklaani (Finnish folk metal with song titles such as “Vodka”, “Bring Us Pints of Beer” and “Jagermeister”). What I’m saying is that the divergent path taken by some bands who associate, at least initially, with death metal can lead to some very gimmick-laden places. These are not places I like to visit or that typically produce music of objective quality.

With my initial enthusiasm dampened somewhat, I discovered that melodic death metal can be a hard thing to trade in whilst remaining impactful and keeping any of the ‘death’ alive, if you follow my meaning. Temnein then, live in a world that can be difficult to navigate. Hailing from France, the band have been around since 2009 and this is their 3rd full-length. Independently released, though with digital distribution through Blood Blast, we’ve got 10 tracks over 52 minutes, with a theme (stopping short of this being a concept record) running through – specifically that of greed and human nature, hence the title. I’d listened to the record maybe 3 or 4 times when I discovered this and although it does make sense now when I listen to the record, I can’t pretend I’d exactly picked up on it before, but that’s not necessarily a band thing. Because Temnein do what they do rather well. The songs, as opposed to feeling like various constituent parts of a single whole, stand comfortably as individual compositions. With the exception of album intro “The Storyteller” and closer “Scums of Hamelin”, the songs are all between 4 and 6 minutes long, have the requisite narrative sense to them, (though you may struggle to pick the lyrics out of the vocals) and grand, swelling passages that lead to isolated riffs, solos and moments of borderline progginess at various points. It’s quite a pleasant journey to go on, to be frank.

If you detect a hint of damning with faint praise, then you’d be right. The agreeable nature of the record is, perversely, it’s undoing to my ears. The guitar tone is more mellifluous than I’d like, the drums sound compressed (apart from the cymbals which ride far too much) and the vocals are entirely proficient and appropriate, but I just very rarely feel the fight in it. There’s no bile, no blood, no spit. Which is maybe what brought about my meandering first paragraph. I accept that melodeath isn’t trying to be death metal, but the aspects that make up the dotted lines between the two genres have become compromised to the point of being formulaic for the most part. There just feels like a lack of urgency and engagement in the performances, ultimately. Which is a shame as there are some strong passages. For example, the lead riff in “The Knotted Bag” is great and drives the song forward for once, giving it a sense of purpose. The solo and accompanying turn of pace in “Rise of the Sontarans” is another brief example of what the band are capable of.

In fairness to the band, the songs are fine. Better than fine. They’re good. It’s just the record stays in a comfortable pocket and rarely excites as a result. When you chuck in a few rather odd choices (the spoken word passage in “Yuki Onna” immediately makes me recoil and the occasional choral backdrops actually detract from the atmosphere somehow), then overall you have a record that does what it sets out to do, but very much to a template. If you’re a big fan of this stuff, then this is a perfectly decent example of it. If you’re interested but haven’t tried this stuff before, then this is possibly not a bad place to start as it’s quite palatable. But if you’re looking for something that’s going to really blow your skirt up, then I don’t know many people that will find genuine excitement here.