20 years under their belt and one long gap between ‘Eight Ways’ and ‘Red In Tooth And Claw’, Madder Mortem are truly back and firing on all cylinders and have been down on their allotment cultivating a Marrow. It should win some prizes too as it is a whopper. I have always liked this band of Norwegian oddballs as their music takes me to places that few others do being abstract, strange and unconventional all in a very good way of course. It was probably ‘Deadlands’ and its very bizarre cover art that first grabbed my attention back in 2002 and I have been enjoying their music led by an avant-garde troupe of musicians and the belting tones of singer Agnete M. Kirkevaag ever since. Shows have been sparse and I think from memory I have still only managed to catch the band a couple of times when they played here with Opeth in 2003 & Enslaved, Arcturus and Red Harvest in 2005. Unfortunately I missed their return last year with Soen and am kicking myself for that as the band don’t exactly play that often and indeed albums are a bit of a rare treat too.
I knew this was going to be a somewhat hard one to get to grips with on first play due to the substance and wealth of material on display but after one spin I knew I was hooked and loved it. The 11 songs are lovingly wrapped around with short opening and closing acoustic numbers that really tug at the heartstrings and have sublime melody and when ‘Liberator’ bounces in you know you are up for a ride that’s going to drag you all over the shop. Folk, avant-garde, prog and blackness are all here and the band chop and change styles rapidly but not in a way that is too hectic or up its own butt to enjoy and fall in love with. Indeed I feel truly liberated when that particularly track takes off zealously with some guitar motifs that are pure Cardiacs and the prog elements are fired up over Agnete’s unique and commanding vocal tones; never overly operatic but natural, graceful and full of power. ‘Moonlight Over Silver White’ slows the manic phase down a little and the vocal poeticism and dreamy refrain of the music comes to the fore. Listening to the band is akin to stumbling into wonderland and their fairy-tale lyricism and songs are never cheesy but always enthralling. The power of the chorus hits and the music is always loud and never understated encouraging you to keep twisting the volume nob up a bit and really get the most out of it. “Enchantment” and “Power” are two key words that strike on this listening experience. ‘Until You Return’ starts like a lullaby, guaranteed to soothe the most savage of hearts but by complete contrast choppy violence infects and any slumber here is going to flow from sweet dreams to nightmares.
Modern sound is not shunned in the slightest and there are at times a spring in the musical chops that could only be referred to as Djenty. You should certainly notice it on the hammer and tongs approach of ‘I Will Be Done’ a biblical heaving mass of urgency and the albums most in your face number, certainly providing a slap around the chops. Each track has its own identity and sense of wonder about it, the strident title track shifts between massive bursts of ballast to near smoky jazz club gloom, the paradoxes in shift and motion are fantastically constructed. The rapid fire vocal delivery and massive sense of galloping melody of ‘White Snow, Red Shadows’ is another highlight of an album, that’s frankly full of them. As for the dramatic timpani bombast of 9 minute ‘Waiting To Fall’ that’s exactly what I have done, headlong in love with this album.
(9/10 Pete Woods)