Normally, when I hear the words “progressive” and “atmospheric” in front of the word “metal,” I run screaming from the room. So fearful am I of the genre’s technically proficient but terribly brooding boredom that I would rather stick a fork in my own ear. So I don’t know for what reason I took a chance on Madder Mortem’s album “Eight Ways,” but I did. I had heard just enough samples to want to see what it was about.
Fully armed and loaded with a scathing critique of what I was sure would be the band’s ominous but ultimately pretentious and hollow effort, I found myself surprised when everything I had prepared turned out to be a waste.
Don’t mistake my sentiment here. I am not converted to this type of this metal, nor am I about to stand up and trumpet the superiority of Madder Mortem’s album over everything else I’ve reviewed this year. I will say this though; for what it is, it ain’t bad.
I was mildly shocked to find myself not recoiling in horror the longer that “Eight Ways” went on. My reaction was much to the opposite; the more I heard, the more I came to appreciate what I was hearing. The veteran band from Norway refuses to get lost in the “progressive” part of their mythos, and that prevents the sonic babbling so often found in the genre.
The album begins slowly, with “Formaldehyde,” into “The Little Things,” taking its time winding up for the eventual payoff. By the time you get to “A Different Kind of Hell,” the band has seemingly made the decision to simply be as loud as they can. Tracks like “Riddle Wants to Be,” and “Get That Monster Out of Here,” carry the sound forward into the back half of the album, where the “progressive” and “atmospheric” seem to fade, and the “metal” takes firm hold.
Madder Mortem boasts that they are a band who attempts to internalize and make their own any music they hear that inspires them. That claim is backed up as the album incorporates parts of metal, blues, punk and jazz, with tastes of Spanish or gypsy music sprinkled here and there for flavor. The album’s best strength and signature selling point is how the band can weave from one end of that spectrum to the other in a matter of measures and not make any single part seem ill-fitted or out of place. The songs can be at points heavy, plodding, fragile, scathing, or a host of other things while still sounding fluid from section to section. The powerful and haunting “Life, Lust and Liberty,” is the crown jewel of the album.
Okay, I do have to make one note. I’m not crazy about Agnete Kirkevaag as a vocalist. She has a strong voice, but uses it to a fault, and she can overpower the instruments behind her. She’s kind of a rich man’s Janis Joplin in that regard; those who know me know how I feel about Janis. So really, I could do without Agnete on a lot of the tracks.
“Eight Ways” might not be for me, but I tip my hat for the album’s accomplishments. There’s a lot to like here. If more artistic metal is your flavor, it’s certainly worth a spin.