METALITE – A VIRTUAL WORLD
Label: AFM Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
We’re at an interesting point in history — the pandemic, social unrest, the quest for racial and economic parity, the ever-increasing impact of technology on our lives. Metal bands are feeling it too and are writing about it, no matter their subgenre. Swedish modern power metal band METALITE is taking their own stab at big issues on their third album, the just-released “A Virtual World”.
This is their second album with singer Erica Ohlsson up front; the rest of the band is guitarists Edwin Premberg (he’s also the main songwriter) and Robert Örnesved, bassist Robert Majd, and drummer Lea Larsson. This follow-up to their 2019 album “Biomechanicals” claims to, as their bio says, “continue to draw a picture of a modern utopia… showing more hope and perspective of how our future can – and should – look like”. Well yeah, it does that – mostly.
Certainly the title track has that hopeful feeling right away with the brilliance of the sound itself – tons of keys and guitar and a frenetic, big, big sound. Lea‘s drumming is varied, shifting and changing; Erica‘s voice is rich and self-assured. There are several references here to technology – as escape (“The oasis in a world that’s left behind”), the “cloud in the sky” (in the computer storage sense of the word), that everything lives forever on the internet (“It’s calling you, dreaming of eternal life”), and even as salvation (“A place you call home, a safe place to stay / Leaving the real world you’ll never go astray” and “The digital orb of life will help you through the night”). The chorus is faster, exhilarating and yes, optimistic; the last one at first stripped bare, echoing and hollow, before it fills out and up as before. The robotic female voice is a fun way of punctuating the action, saying appropriate things at appropriate times (“Welcome, all systems activated” at the start and “Program terminated” at the end), driving home that sort of friendly technology idea.
“Cloud Connected” also makes use of the “cloud” metaphor in a computing sense in its chorus: “We are cloud connected / Connected til the end of the world / Cloud connected / We are stuck in this place and we will never be heard / Our lives are connected / One by one facing the sky / We are cloud connected / Forever til the day, the day that we die”. It’s saying that we are swallowed and amalgamated with everything else and everyone else. But it’s almost like this chorus holds all the meaning and the jist of the song and the verses is a little more random, less meaningful – although the prechorus changes nicely from “Imagination has been left to drown” (that whole rain metaphor) to “Imagination has been saved for a while” (“saved” like saved on a computer, I think, which is clever). They strip and undermix the chorus down at the end and modulate it for the final time, a technique carried over from the “Biomechanicals” days.
“Talisman” begins with programming as a nice lead-in to the initial part of the story (“The tales are true, the tales about the mystic wonderland”). The characters are obviously on a quest “to get passage through … the golden gate of mystery”, whatever that is. The sonic quality of the prechorus matches the action (“The talisman will lead us through the door / And take us to a place where we’ve never been before”) – it has a certain mystic, leading sound, like foreshadowing, which is effective. It’s all catchy for sure and it sounds terrific, but it doesn’t really say much. There’s no real plot to the story, all we know is that the talisman “turns water into gold” (which would not be helpful if you were thirsty) but it’s not said why the character wants this item and what it would do for “the clan”. After the solo, which uses the same programming as the start and has the guitar play the prechorus melody, we modulate again on the last prechorus and chorus. The programming at the end matches the optimistic tone of the last lyrics: “On and on, from dusk til dawn, through the sky we will arrive”, just as the programming at the start was hushed, uncertain, hesitant.
The mood is set again with programming in “Beyond The Horizon” – the hectic keyboard part that starts it is very treble, icy, bright and brilliant. When we hit the verse, it slows and stretches out, Erica‘s voice equally smooth and effortless, especially in the lead-in to the chorus that sets the stage for it (the chorus) perfectly. The solo section is interesting in that it starts with the same programming as the beginning, but the guitars take it to a much darker, more ominous place, a complete change in mood, before taking it back to the original tone. But this seems like a kind of marching-in-place song, with its only purpose being to provide an optimistic message (“From the dark into the light / We will take you on a glorious flight… Holding on, we’ll reach for the dreams / Over the mountains and the seven seas… We will take you through the clouds in the sky”). There are references to certain things, like “We’ll fight the hands of time” and “We are the ones who’ll light up the sky/ We’ll find a way to get out, we will fly”, but again it really doesn’t say much overall. And speaking of “the sky”, it’s mentioned in just about every track in one way or another. Again they modulate on the last takes of the chorus – they obviously want to drive home the point, but the technique does get predictable.
Based on the title, we can gather that “Peacekeepers” is a bit more serious in subject matter and the musical tone matches that – it’s darker, more sober. It starts promisingly lyrically with some pretty potent imagery: “Leaving the family / Embracing the unknown while waving goodbye / Carrying the hope and stays in line / The weight of a nation on a shoulder sign”. It’s good stuff, even up to when they call them “Protectors of the world / Protectors of life”, but they stumble in the chorus when they say “Peacekeepers, keepers of peace” – it’s kind of a “no duh” moment in a serious track and that’s never good. The solo is tense and dramatic, but again has a certain hopeful quality as well and the wordless vocal section with all the Erica vocal overdubbing is great.
“The Vampire Song” kicks off right away with the chorus and has a slower, more soulful groove which is a nice changeup. It’s kind of an odd lyrical segue, this dip into the supernatural, but it might be metaphorical – the line in the second verse hints at that: “In the dark there is a thirst to conquer / In the mirror glass I see the monster / The monster of your creation”, as does the line in the chorus: “From the darkest corner I won’t pull back / The change begins to show” (as if to say I’m not resisting this change) and the line: “I am free, I’m in command” (like the change might be beneficial in the end). All are interesting ideas, but are never completely fleshed out – and there’s yet another modulation at the end.
“We’re Like The Fire” starts with another rapid-fire, scattershot keyboard melody that carries throughout and acts as a touchstone. It too is a track that hints at things but there’s no actual story or reason behind it – “While the war going on / We’re skilled and prepared / The riders of light will never get scared / This moment in time will decide if we still be alive” – well, who are these “riders” and what are they saving us from? It’s a lot of confidence-building (“Through the wind and the rain we’re like the fire / Together and as one” and “We’ll be the last, the strong survivors / We’ll fight for everyone”), but to no real end except, it seems, to sound good and be positive.The subject of “Artificial Intelligence” seems popular these days – Orden Ogan devoted several songs to it on their latest album – and METALITE‘s crack at it has a potent swing, loose and relaxed despite the subject. This is quite an insightful track – you wish they’d do more of it because they’re not bad at it – and they do oblige later. The first verse is especially true and quite pointed: “We are traveling through an endless wasteland / A massive state in a world unknown / The surroundings are an installation / A high-tech industry we can’t control / For a time we were feeling happy / The idea of life was state of art / With a smile we got ourselves in danger / To the edge where everyone should fall”. The chorus is as well: “Artificial intelligence / Brings the future to the world”, so it’s good, but “Intellectual maleficent / Things that’s dead will come alive” is the drawback. Even with the grammatical error, you get the idea and it’s a sound one, and the rhyme scheme is clever. The second verse, though, loses a bit of the hold they have on the topic, like when they say: “The machines of death just growing stronger / We will fight until the break of dawn” (that’s not really necessary). But they rebound well with the next line: “In the end, we will stand in silence / See the world collapse and fall apart” and that part is stripped down, undermixed, forlorn and barren, a perfect example of matching music to words.
From the title, you’d peg “Alone” as a ballad, and you’d be right. The typical structure is right there – the buildup to the big chorus, the hopeful bridge longing for the other person’s return, the guitar solo on the chorus melody, the reprised chorus to end it – but it doesn’t modulate, thankfully, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There are some grammatical missteps in an effort to fit words into a rhyming pattern (“Will you leave or stay to remain” and “I have seen the signs and I sometimes were blind” and “To leave the room and get away”), but Erica’s voice is restrained and not overly melodramatic, even if it does rise to almost a shriek at the end of each chorus.
Fast, dark, frantic and helpless, you get the feel from “Running” that we’re spiraling out of control – this too is a great example of music and lyric fitting together. There are interesting shifts in tempo and key, like in the last chorus, which does modulate, but down instead of up, so it gives it that lost, hopeless feel. Here again we get thoughtful, as posed in the first verse: “What if everything we see is a bad dream / That everything around us is illusion / What if the leaders in the cloud (there it is again) have a big plan / For the people in the world who are unaware”. It’s a series of what-ifs that are already pretty accurate. There are hints at environmental crisis (“We see the fire in the sky it’s for real now” and “We hide our fears and prepare evacuation / To save our lives and get away from the extinction” and “Stars are falling from the sky” and “The flames are burning solid ground”). The chorus might make an oblique reference to the pandemic – “And the storm’s still raging out there / For those who gave their lives for the fight”. The second verse takes a different tack, but it’s just as effective: “We live our lives in the state of confusion / Disconnected from the world as we know it / The desire for a life of perfection / Always fighting for the dream against deception”. It’s a pretty solid commentary on modern life, as is the next part: “We try our best to reach out but it’s useless / Another victim of a crime in the system” and again they strip those lines down in the mix for maximum impact.
Set to a nice chug with a light keyboard melody over top, “Synchronized” has a low-key, heartfelt chorus and you can sense the sincerity in it. It might make an idealistic or even utopian point – “We are as one, we’re synchronized / We are the same / As everyone else” – of course that’s true, but the song makes it seem like we’re already at this point when we’re obviously not. Maybe it’s just insisting on the optimism, as if wishing could make it so. That line “We try to be unique but we’re paralyzed” is rather profound if you think about it. The second verse too is quite perceptive, and it’s clear they’ve been paying very close attention to current events: “The fear of the unknown will take us / To the point where only hate will feed us / We’ll live as robots in demise / With an empty promise in our eyes”. They may resort to cliche with “Try to be yourself and let no one down”, but really, we could all stand to do that and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. And we get the trademark modulation at the end, not once, but twice!
It’s probably no coincidence that they call themselves METALITE – theirs is literally “metal lite”, they’re a palate cleanser in the world of the genre. The tracks here are brief; they instinctively know how much is enough and that’s good. Musically, they are strong and compelling, if a bit predictable; lyrically they hit the mark many times, but not often enough. When they dabble in the thoughtful, they do it quite well, but they favor the feel-good empowering anthem and there’s nothing wrong with that. But perhaps over time, that thoughtfulness will become a bigger part of their songwriting repertoire – “A Virtual World” is another step in that direction.