May 26, 2010
Sometimes when we listen to metal, we just want to get mentally pulverized. Sometimes we want to get lost in something sweepingly complex that requires serious attention. Sometimes we want to be transported by something that’s beautiful as well as powerful.
Rarely, we find music that accomplishes all those objectives at once. Martriden’s latest album Encounter the Monolith pulls off that hat trick.
One of our faithful readers (the always astute Andy Synn) recommended Martriden to us, and man are we glad he did.
This music (released in February) puts us in mind of a Pacific storm surge assaulting a rocky coastline. Waves of “symphonic” black metal crash with explosive force against jagged stone (as at the outset of “The Three Metamorphoses”), and then the wave-front recedes in passages of relative calm, and the band shifts into prog-metal instrumentals reminiscent of Opeth.
The intensity builds again to full force as storm clouds roll inexorably overhead, heavy rain batters down (with Meshuggah-like pummeling, as on “Heywood R. Floyd”) and megatons of power explode with brute force.
And then at times, as in the beginning and middle of “Death and Transfiguration,” and unexpectedly in other songs, we can imagine the storm passing and glorious rays of sunshine piercing the clouds, when quiet instrumental passages take over or clean guitar leads emerge with soaring melodies. (more effusiveness follows after the jump, plus a song to stream . . .)
Michael Cook’s vocals rasp like a rusted hacksaw, singing of the vastness of the universe and a solitary questing for something undiscovered and transcendent. The layered and constantly changing tones of guitarists Will Thackeray and Shane Howard are brilliantly conceived, and they prove themselves as adept at everything from chugging riffs to tremolo-picked waves of viciousness to flights of prog-metal extravagance.
Kyle Howard’s keyboards are not ever-present and rarely full-forward in the mix, but when they appear, they make just the right contribution to the sweeping atmospherics, and guest musician Brian Mueller provides solid bass support, with occasional prominent riffs that add to the richness of this aural tapestry.
Sam Murphy also appears as the session drummer on this album, and he deserves special mention — because his work is fucking awesome. Like the music as a whole, he constantly shifts styles and techniques, producing rhythmic variations that are integral to the songs and jaw-dropping in their execution.
The album contains only six songs, and most are long, with the instrumental opus “Death and Transfiguration” topping 10 minutes. But so much happens within each song that despite their unusual length, we still wanted more when the endings arrived.
This is intelligent, sophisticated music played with top-shelf skill. We know “intelligent” and “sophisticated” are bad words for some of you when it comes to metal, but trust us: This is a powerful album that’s as heavy as it is sublime, and it deserves a helluva lot more attention than it’s getting.
This band claims Havre, Montana as its hometown. Their first album was released through SOAR and Candlelight, though this new one is completely DIY. The band recorded it themselves, released it on their own, and even turned to guitarist Shane Howard for the album art. You can buy or download the album either from CDBaby or via the band’s website at this location.
And now, here’s a track from Encounter the Monolith for you to stream. We hope you’ll like it as much as we did, and if you do, go shell out some bucks for the whole CD.
So, that’s really all we have to say in this review about Encounter the Monolith. But in writing this review, we discovered some other interesting things we might as well share. For one, the artwork for the band’s previous releases (the one previous album and an EP) is fucking cool. Check out the EP’s cover:
Hey, why stop there? Here’s a variant of that artwork that’s on the band’s MySpace page:
And here’s some of the art from the first CD:
Artwork aside, the band’s name has an interesting derivation. We read this on the band’s web site, and it obviously connects with the name “Martriden,” in addition to being just interesting all by itself:
A mara or mare is a kind of malignant female wraith in Scandinavian folklore believed to cause nightmares. She appears as early as in the Norse Ynglinga saga, but the belief itself is probably even older (see below). “Mara” is the Old Norse, Swedish and Icelandic name, “mare” is Norwegian and Danish.
The mara was thought of as an immaterial being capable of moving through a keyhole or the opening under a door who seated herself at the chest of a sleeping person and “rode” him or her, thus causing nightmares.
In Norwegian/Danish, the word for nightmare is mareritt/mareridt, meaning “mareride”. The Icelandic word martröð has the same meaning, whereas the Swedish mardröm translates as “maredream”.
The weight of the mara could also result in breathing difficulties or feeling of suffocation (an experience now known as sleep paralysis).
March 26, 2010
I have been following Martriden's career since their 2006 debut EP, and I thought their debut album The Unsettling Dark was a startlingly musical slab of feral aggression. This, their second full-length release, already shows Martriden pushing against the boundaries of their chosen genre and striving to create original, interesting music. Encounter the Monolith is not at all what I expected, but is a fascinating sophomore album nonetheless.
The musicianship and the maturity of the songwriting is really noticeable here, as without leaving their aggression or heaviness behind Martriden have created music that is always surprising and much deeper than it appears at first glance. I would call this progressive, but the playing is never showy, and the band's restraint and tact in the use of their individual instruments is really a pleasure. Nobody showboats or takes over the stage, and the band creates a really unified sound with the melding of their instruments. You get that sense, so rare these days, of a band working together, vibing off one another in the studio and feeding that group energy into the music. Martriden are still a Death/Black band, but not in the usual sense, as rather than just playing downtuned Black blasting they use Death rhythms and riff-patterns with an uptuned BM sound and big, melodic compositional style that recalls bands as diverse as Sear Bliss and Septicflesh. It is really difficult to pin down any other band to compare this to, as really Martriden have combined elements of extreme metal in ways that are new, or at least underused, creating a sound that is familiar on the surface, but unique in detail.
At first spin I thought this was not as good as The Unsettling Dark, as it is more sprawling and less aggressive, but repeated listens opened up the complexity and the satisfying depths of this disc. Martriden are a band to watch, as they are not content to simply tread water and do what is expected of them. This is a band determined to push the envelope, and there could well be greatness in store. This band is already doing great things, but a band this ambitious will not be content with that.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Encounter the Monolith
I was immediately transfixed to the cover image of Martriden's sophomore effort, Encounter the Monolith, for the comic book meets Arthur C. Clarke aesthetic it inspired within me. But having little to no recollection of their debut The Unsettling Dark, I was not sure what to expect of the contents. Montana is not a place I tend to associate with a strong metal scene, though its low population seems perfect for the isolation required of more extreme acts that fall into the black metal, black/folk or ambient spheres. Lo and behold, Martriden offer living proof that the bluffs and woodlands do in fact shelter such monstrous imaginations, for this album is like a juggernaut from out of nowhere, that lifts you by the neck into the cosmos and then dashes your brains out against the nearest planets, asteroids and moons, at the same time hammering your brain with the hidden lore of the universe.
Style wise, they merge massive death metal rhythms with sneering black rasp vocals, all the while fashioning a symphony against the black landscape which smells with glorious atmosphere. We're talking birth and end of the galaxy all at once here, for their tones imply both space opera and science. Encounter the Monolith indeed...a journey of crushing weights offset with astounding segues of lightness, jerking the emotions of your insignificant human life down to the trilobites from which your distant racial memory has bloomed. The production of this album is simply unreal, superior to most recordings from far more cash-endowed, famous bands. It sounds like it was recorded on a bigger budget than something like Fear Factory or Mnemic, and yet features some of the similar, mechanical rambling in the giant, chugging rhythms. That is not to say there is any nu-metal or cheapened groove here, it's all presented like a body of rock rolling through space, sure to bring doom to any terrestrial body it meets.
The musicianship, while competent, is never showy or flatulent. Each bass and guitar line, each drum fill, all complement the darkness of the track between them, as do the synths, which glare into the firmament to provide a theatrical score to the titan-like movements of this cosmic bodies. There are six tracks and 45 minutes of music, so expect more than your share of drawn out material. To Martriden's credit, though, they make every moment so involving that the time will simply pass on by, sweat gathering on your brow as you feel like you've just witnessed first contact with your Creator. All of this praise having passed my digits, I do feel that the band does often lack in the truly memorable songwriting department. There are many solid, constituent riffs, and certainly the sum of these = full immersion to the experience, but few that I'd point out as 'you HAVE to hear this'. My favorites would probably be "The Three Metamorphoses" and the title track, but there is nothing here that lacks effort or full conviction to the ideals of the band's higher mysteries.
I keep wanting to circle the sun with all manner of interstellar metaphors, but coming back in to earth for a landing, I feel compelled to offer the bottom line: Martriden is a great fucking band, and we have very few acts here in America that can create such a gripping hybrid of black and death metal in such hi fidelity sound. Raw, primal kvlt black metal this is not, but an outburst of modernized vision from which the musical genre is but the larval stage. If Galactus started a metal band inspired by the novels of Clarke or other sci-fi isolation luminaries, it would probably sound like this one...just imagine that.
Highlights: Colossal shapes crashing and careening through a vacuum.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10]
-March 17, 2010-------------------
Martriden - Encounter the Monolith
Martriden is EASILY the greatest thing to come out of Montana since my wife's family. In fact, I've been known, on numerous occasions, to proclaim that Martriden is the greatest new band to enter the metal scene within the last 5 years, period. Their debut EP, the self-titled "Martriden," is still one of the best CDs I have the great fortune to call a part of my collection. Even at only 4 tracks, it blows most metal out of the water in terms of technicality, brutality and sweeping grandeur. Not since Opeth's "Orchid" or Insomnium's "In the Halls of Awaiting" have I heard a debut album with so much talent. Most bands have to develop an entire career and release a few albums before they finally find their groove! And even when they do, very few bands can still exceed themselves with each subsequent release. (Opeth was on the upward climb until "Watershed," in my opinion, and Insomnium, unfortunately, never improved beyond what they started with--which is still fucking impressive; don't get me wrong).
Martriden's first full length album, "The Unsettling Dark," proved that they had the musical talent to meet and exceed the high standard they set for themselves with their incredible EP, and their second album, "Encounter the Monolith," somehow, seemingly impossibly, goes even further. Since I always compare them to Opeth, I'll illustrate with a comparison: Opeth's first two albums were mind-blowing in terms of guitar technicality and atmosphere. Then, when Opeth hired bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez for their third album, "My Arms, Your Hearse," they defied all expectations of metal--not just their own genre, but all of metaldome, as a musical entity!--by blending jazz-influenced bass and drums to their already exceedingly-progressive style.
"Encounter the Monolith" is Martriden's figurative "MAYH." This is the album that will push them into legendary territory and redefine our expectations of metal entirely. I haven't been this impressed with a new band in a long time.