Milk White Throat are a bunch of Brighton-based musicians who have been around the block in various other local bands and who have now come together to record this, their debut album. As far as I know none of the members have much of a previous recorded history so “Death of Beauty” is very much culmination and first shot all rolled into one, which may explain the ‘kitchen sink’ approach they take. The title track and opener is, for me, a painful introduction. The band play progressive metal and are overly keen to let you know this by presenting every trick in the prog metal book to you with dazzling speed, in what feels less like a flourish and more of an assault. Tight patterns of guitar, constantly shifting rhythms and time changes, a swarm of interlocking melodies, jazzy breakdowns, it does them all in its hectic six-and-a-half minutes. The effect reminds me of when you listen to the first 30 seconds of each track off an album on iTunes.
Milk White Throat profess a love for The Mars Volta; they aren’t kidding, this is never knowingly undersold. Why play one tune for six minutes when you can play seven? Some of the guitar playing by Tom Humphrey is like a souped-up Steely Dan, with jazz rock vibes hovering ominously in the background frequently. There are strong core melodies that run through some tracks, thank goodness, and they display the bands skill, but that title track… boy you’re hardly sad to see it go as we move into the lovely lilting piano solo of ‘Intro to Downfall’. We are soon back into the dazzling almost theatrical guitar work of ‘Downfall’ proper, which eventually calms into near ska-tinged bass (something Rush have a penchant for) and long see-sawing guitar notes, which for some reason remind me of the sea. Vocalist Tom Bates controlled screams then emerge to box your ears before the guitar again bursts into thrilling life. Bates‘s vocals are often the only earthy and earthbound sounds present on Milk White Throat‘s songs, and despite his limited range he does a good job of making these songs somewhere near approachable. Back to ‘Downfall’ and once more the song is head-spinningly restless, perhaps annoyingly so, but each part of the composition is melodically interesting and powerfully performed. This does still sounds like rock music in the main, whereas I find some prog metal seems like an exercise in musical dexterity and scientific rigour.
Through the middle of the album I find one song very much blends into the next with so little in the way of constant and persistent melody, (‘Permanent Exposure’ at least does it more pithily and sounds like King Crimson playing Deftones), and on initial listens I felt “Death of Beauty” akin to a fabulously extravagant firework display. This is spectacular, loud and colourful, but as soon as it’s over the experience is irretrievably lost. It leaves no emotional imprint on your conscience. However, given time the presence of real, raw humanity can be felt – in the desperate spoken passages of the combative ‘Nothing Isn’t, Everything Is’ and especially on the slower, piano-led first half of ‘The Compass Points Down’ which closes the album in grandstanding fashion. Full of passion, it entirely abandons flash for the sake of the song. These glimpses are too rare though, and as ‘The Compass Points Down’ descends into yet another kaleidoscopic fragmentation of sound you’ll find “Death of Beauty” is a cold and uninviting listen.