It’s time to bake a cake and get the candles out of the drawer, Mercury the debut album from Madder Mortem is 20 years old and the band and no doubt many fans are celebrating. I am too as I didn’t actually hear the Norwegian group until 3rd album Deadlands in 2002 and I had not got their debut which has been out of print for a while. Believe you me since I did first get my head around the unique and other-wordly act we have been in a musical love affair ever since and I have loved everything I have heard and found myself swooning at their live performances. They had a bit of a birthday surprise for those that could make it to Oslo recently with all past and present members of the band grouping together for a show. Whilst with many band’s members come and go with plenty of hate and vitriol that is certainly not the case here and it is no surprise as I am sure we have mentioned before Madder Mortem are a lovely bunch of people.
So what about the album, 20 years is a long time and you may expect dredging up old material to unrattled a few skeletons in the cupboard be it to do with humble origins not hitting the mark in the slightest compared to newest material (in this case Marrow 2019). That’s not the case here though and already Madder Mortem were displaying great things in regard to song structure, composition, playing skills and a unique stance that has followed them down the years. The 9 tracks here are all excellent and it is not long before they are greeting the listener like loving new friends even if they are old ones and really creating an impression; exactly what you would want from what is essentially a long-lost album.
Grand and majestic melody fills the speakers as ‘Undertow’ flows in, Agneta’s powerful and harmonious voice filling the spaces. Her and BP M. Kirkevaag are the 2 founding members on this album and their musical and personal relationship has stood the test of time since this originally came out on Misanthropy Records all those years ago. The other members may have gone but are more than proficient at their craft and their presence already shows a strong sense of identity and ideas. OK if I was going to be critical I don’t like the way this particular song is in full flow and suddenly downs tools but with the rigorous motion injected into ‘Under Another Moon’ all that is fairly quickly forgotten. Progressive motions, doom and gothic are all moulded together sublimely and the vocals never fail to entrance, captivating with the beauty of their essence and never more that natural, there is no need for over the top clucking and forced operatic birdsong here. Melodies are rich and have huge staying power, now on the 4th listen (and it’s a long album of 79 minutes with bonus numbers) these have become joyous tunes to become acquainted with. ‘He Who Longs For The Stars’ is a case in point, soothing and like a lullaby it sways gorgeously in motion like a breeze in the wind on a starlit night before the chorus crying out for our visitor from above to “Come down” magnanimously powers through the senses and completely overwhelms. This is one of 3 album numbers that have been re-recorded and modernised at the end of the album. To be honest they are near perfect already but the contrast is great to hear too. At the time a phrase like djent didn’t exist but with them extra ballast and power is added (‘The Grinding Silence’ and ‘Remnants’ also getting the new make-over). It’s hard choosing a favourite version of these songs both are superb in their own right and I doubt any fans who have been into the band since the beginning will be complaining at the update. Whilst we are talking about extras there are 2 brand new songs at the end too ‘Shadows Coming Home’ and ‘Vigil’ which we are told are based on riffs from the original era. This is exactly what you need to enjoy a re-release rather than murky pre-production demo versions in my book and well done to the band for presenting things in a true and authentic fashion like this. It makes it obvious that they still love the old material and it remains very much in their heart rather than this being a label cash cow.
For the moment though I’m lost in the warmth of the songs being rocked and soothed by rigorous motion of Loss and basking in the soothing acoustic flamenco guitar work of a song like Loss in equal contrasting measures. The strange sounds and tangents of ‘The Remnants’ with its almost dubby and trip-hop backbone is another example of a band who were prepared to do things that bit differently and the coruscating scale sliding riff work is another reason that this album will lodge in the memory and stick with you. I feel almost ashamed that it has not already done that work with me 20 years ago but am sure for others this has definitely stood the test of time. Whether it is new or old to you one thing is for sure Mercury is an essential album and let’s hope there’s plenty of more birthdays and new material to come from this fine band in the future.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)