And so 2003 gets of to a rip-roaring start, with oddly titled Danish newcomers Compos Mentis (essentially the opposite of legal term "Non Compos Mentis"; unable to stand trial due to insanity). This five piece is one of the newer wave of melodic metal acts coming out of Europe (Omnium Gatherum, Oceans of Sadness come to mind) that is making a form of very melodic black/death metal. Children of Bodom did the same thing to black metal few years back, but Compos Mentis differ in that their breed of melodic metal also has one foot squarely in classic NWSDM (Dark Tranquility struck me as main source), as it's generally more steadily paced and rhythmically structured than all-out staccato riffs and technical emphasis. Most of the riffs on display are relatively simple, if ever so damn catchy; yet still they're relatively heavy. Those looking for chaotic blasts and dizzying blackened speed might as well leave now. Compos Mentis does utilize some blastbeats, but they are generally upbeat and epic, and when mixed with the unabashed synths, the result of the speedier sections sounds like old Dimmu Borgir or Old Man's
Child's more symphonic moments. They're not quite as black metal. The keyboard work also reminded me of the unheralded but talented Septic Cemetery, as many songs are laced with atmospheric keyboard solos and sweeping passages that will deter most extreme metal fans with a less discerning ear. It's a shame, as there is some spectacular, if not familiar riffs to be heard on Fragments of a Withered Dream. "Drained" kicks things off with a lazy acoustic intro, then cracks apart for a short lived but cool symphonic blastbeat; but just as quick it all slows down do a lazy misleading jaunt, until the riff at 1:15, lets you know this lot mean business - and their business is killer riffing. Another couple of blastbeats enforce the slight black metal influence, but as the album goes on you feel that this song is the "blackest" of the lot. The rest of the album is generally more content with a upbeat mid-paced gallop, intertwined with the melodic refrains that litter the album. The next two tunes "Temptation" and "and "My Inner Beast" tread far more Swedish waters with fairly placid structures and are delivered with annoying resiliency - they're incredibly memorable. I think a lot of it is the work of keyboardist Bo, who doesn't
appear to be the usual metalhead stuck behind a Casio on stilts. His style is more AOR, and it gives Compos Mentis an accessible layer over the crunchy guitars. Unfortunately, "Within Me" starts with a rather predictable In Flames pace, but things pick up with one of their well-timed and deft blastbeats. However, one of the album's best riffs is buried within "Dead Among the Dead". The main marching riff is classic heavy metal given a slick NWSDM metal gloss and symphonic polish. The far more commercial sounding "The Prophecy" disappoints after the stellar previous track, but is no chopped liver with yet another solid main riff. These guys must shit riffs. But you see therein lies my only teeny gripe - despite the overabundance of many, many killer riffs, they all seem variations of riffs and note progressions I've heard before. It's like they've reworked all of extreme metal's best songs. I'm not saying they are cop cats, as they possess far more talent than simple clones, but I swear, the general chord structure of many of the excellent riffs have been done before. Don't let that put you off, Fragments of a Withered Dream is still a splendid album. Vocally, Jesper varies little between harsh snarl and gruff grunt, and never really seems
ready to try something different - which is actually quite refreshing. Even when the clean vocals surfacing in "My Inner Beast", it's their sole appearance; which thankfully shows Compos Mentis are not quite ready to get sucked into a mainstream Soilwork void just yet. At its most basic level, despite its seemingly shallow (the overdone melodic metal 'n' synths) simplistic approach, I loved Fragments of a Withered Dream, and reckon this lot are capable of great things. Great start to 2003!