Madder Mortem: Eight Ways

matter mortem
By Tate Bengston

After the disappointing Desiderata, which suffered from a flat production, tedious guitar parts influenced by Fear Factory, and slapdash songwriting, I had feared that the once-promising Madder Mortem had taken a fatal misstep. Once known for cross-breeding gothic intrigue with metallic force, Desiderata was lacking in both.
What a relief, then, that Eight Ways returns to the captivating style explored on Deadlands. Eight Ways departs from that 2002 release in two important ways. First, while Deadlands tapered off around the middle of the album and never recovered, Eight Ways manages to sustain the interest level for its duration. Second, and certainly a key factor in explaining the first point, is the fearless-yet-tasteful exploration. Eight Ways is the sound of a band not only playing to its strengths but successfully extending that core sound.

At the helm, vocalist Agnete Kirkevaag remains a disturbing cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Grace Slick. Of course, such a mixture produces some unorthodox note choices but Agnete’s power is now harnessed to a sense of control and taste that occasionally eluded her in the past. A song such as “Armour,” with its infectious chorus and choral backing vocals, is both hypnotic and grandiose; it testifies to her increasingly nuanced appreciation of atmosphere and, more importantly, her ability to not disrupt an existing atmosphere.

That sensitivity is mirrored by the other instruments, which have grown to appreciate how dynamics may be created through sudden shifts in the density of sound. At one moment, a sparse and haunting bit of restraint lulls the ear. The next moment, the trap is sprung with a flurry of heavy riffs and aggressive drum rolls while Agnete sings her siren song with the ferocity of a banshee. Sure, the formula does not sound innovative as described on paper, but the way in which Madder Mortem applies this formula is quite unique. While the vocals and guitars are obvious focal points for Madder Mortem, the hidden stars of the album are located in the rhythm team; the bassist and drummer interact with remarkable sophistication, imbuing the quieter moments with a tense, pulsating atmosphere that plays a vital role in powering the music along its fateful path.

What ultimately allows this album to succeed is its aforementioned diversity. This diversity is prevalent on the second half of the album in particular. This area, which has been a pitfall on previous Madder Mortem albums, has emerged as the place where the band’s songwriting is extended into new territory. Risks are ventured and victories are the result. The first sign of this is heard in the variegated percussion of the sixth track, “Riddle Wants To Die.” This is immediately followed by an intriguing bass guitar lick on “Where Dream and Day Collide” which serves as the common link as the song twists and turns, building tension before briefly erupting and once again giving way for the spelunking bassline to return. As if this were not enough, the infectious handclaps of “The Flesh, The Blood, and The Man” are pulled off without sounding like pop pandering in the least, while Agnete oscillates between a semi-spoken verse and a truly haunting chorus where she hits one of her highest registers with a smoothness I have not heard from her previously.

While there are a few songs where the riff pattern remains too simple for its own good (such as “The Little Things,” which harks to Desiderata), this album stands as a convincing return-to-form for Madder Mortem and also a brave step forward from a creative standpoint. Where most bands take a conservative approach after a misstep, Madder Mortem not only restored its creative engine but tweaked its performance at the same time.

(Peaceville)

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Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.

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