Wow. Only five months since melodic death-metal masters At the Gates announced their reunion and they’ve already released a new album? Nah, it’s just the full-length debut by Stigma, but good guess. This Italian quintet brings the exact same neoclassical riffs, puffy twin-guitar filigree, and peppy thrash oom-pah of At the Gates’ classic Slaughter of the Soul (1995), then gets lead yowler Vlad to scream over it all about hordes of vampires and zombies and stuff.
As practitioners of Gothenburg-style melodeath, Stigma could be far less competent, and When Midnight Strikes! at least has conviction and top-notch musicianship going for it. But you could say the same thing about Black Dahlia Murder or Darkest Hour or Killswitch Engage, or any of the dozens of other metal bands that, unlike Stigma, tweak the basic At the Gates template enough to define themselves. Stigma’s consistency also works against them. The band exclusively writes up-tempo creepshow thrashers (more 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead), which tends to fudge over whatever differences might exist between songs.
You gotta wonder how a band that’s been around for eight years could still cling so reverently to a single band — nay, a single album — for its entire M.O. The photo in the liner notes shows members of Stigma wearing Immortal, Emperor and the Classic Struggle T-shirts, which would suggest that at least three-fifths of them have heard something other than Slaughter of the Soul. Really the only thing that Stigma doesn’t rip from the Björler brothers is that horror conceit, which is pretty cool but can’t save When Midnight Strikes! from drowning in its own transfused blood.