Mark Jensen has become one of the more prominent and prolific composers and musicians in the prog/power/gothic metal arena these days. And his Mayan project is his nod to some of his European contemporaries like the quirky genius Arjen A. Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One, Stream of Passion) or the power metal overlord Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia). Mayan is his attempt at a “rock opera,” or in the case of the first Mayan album a “Symphonic Death Metal Opera.” Whether or not Antagonise actually fits the description of an opera, it is a very entertaining and overwhelming album with hints at Jensen’s own compositional genius, sense of melody, and a very talented cast of musicians.
So I’m not sure if Mark himself considers Antagonise another “opera,” but style-wise it is certainly a Mayan album. It’s not After Forever; it’s not Epica; it’s its own entity altogether. Yet, at the same time any familiarity with Jensen’s prior work to Mayan will likely help you enjoy this work. You might also need to be able to handle the barrage of styles he presents all at once, with very little room to stop and breathe.
Antagonise is not a death metal album, nor is it a symphonic power metal album, or even a gothic metal album. That’s both a blessing and a curse to the average listener. I’m sold on the style, since I enjoyed Quarterpast so much, and have grown fond of other acts that give the listener a lot to make sense of during the experience (à la the aforementioned Ayreon or Avantasia, among others). But I realize that for someone who is just used to the female-fronted “beauty and the beast” gothic style that prevails in the scene these days, Antagonise is going to be a much more complicated and overwhelming meal to stomach.
The music and compositions here are top notch. The guitar tone is aggressive, as is the riffing style. With Mayan, Jensen really eschews some of the pop music tropes he employs to grab listeners in After Forever or Epica. There is a truly epic feel to the riffs with the keyboards used as a melodic flourish rather than the instrumentation that moves the melody along. And since there are still some prog/power elements here, there are key solos to accompany guitar solos too. The songs themselves maintain their aggression and drive because the riffs are that in-your-face. The drumming accentuates this well too – there’s a ton of double bass drums and even some respectable blast beats. Arien van Weesenbeek, who currently also drums for Epica, really lets loose on this album. So like I said, this isn’t a death metal album – but it’s clear that Mark Jensen knows his death metal. So if you’re an adventurous death metal fan, you could likely find a good bit to enjoy here, especially if you can also be on board with more avant garde bands like SepticFlesh or newer Moonspell. I am in love with songs like “Redemption” that showcase that sense of outright aggression. And Jensen himself has always had a very strong death growl – it is deep, guttural, dynamic, and shows that despite his thin frame and feminine features the dude has some goddamn balls.
The melodic vocals are primarily handled by soprano Laura Macri, a woman who I am unfamiliar with, but does a good job most of the time. Her male counterpart does most of the heavy lifting in my opinion, and he is a name that power metal enthusiasts should be familiar with – Henning Basse from German power metal stalwarts Metalium. And Basse does a good job with the material at hand. He has a gruff mid-register tone, rather than a soaring falsetto and that works very well with the heavier riffs that Mayan has on the menu here. I really think Basse’s vocals and vocal melodies are best heard on the first half of the album, which really doesn’t drag at all and keeps the intensity going throughout.
The album’s midpoint has likely my favorite song offered, but represents a big turning point on my listens of it in its entirety. “Lone Wolf” has a much slower pace, but starts with a heavy-as-all-shit riff that’s very much like the “Imperial March” from Star Wars. It just effing works here, and it’s heavy as a sack of bricks to the face. Everything that I do like about Mayan is showcased in “Lone Wolf” – aggressive riffs, soaring keyboards and symphonic elements, and Henning Basse showing everyone what a power metal singer should sound like.
The turning point I mentioned is that I think the album kind of overstays its welcome just a bit. The acoustic ballad/interlude “Insano” with its brooding female vocals and lyrics in Italian really didn’t do anything for me. Honestly, while it’s not necessarily a poor song in its own right (and vocally it’s quite impressive), I skip it most times I listen to this album because it slows down the pace of an otherwise pretty intense album. And once again, while the material available in that second half of the album isn’t bad by any means, it takes a lot of attention just to get there. I’m not against albums that are more than an hour in length, but an album with this much going on exhausts you by the end of it.
I didn’t dwell too much on the lyrics because they are going to be subjective to the listener. Clearly, Jensen has some strong opinions on the political affairs outside even his home country. The lyrics themselves are pretty easy to interpret, and the artwork moves the thesis statement along quite easily. Whether I agree with his stance or not doesn’t affect the fact that I think this is highly competent music by a composer and musician who is not afraid to throw the entire kitchen sink at the listener. I recommend it, if you think you can handle it!