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.
Back in 2010, Martriden released their album Encounter the Monolith. At the time, I was just an average reader at Metal Reviews, and checking weekly for the latest recommended albums. Martriden was a band I remember fondly, probably ranking in the most plays of any album I had that year. Unfortunately last year, Cold and the Silence slipped passed me until only about a week ago. I am happy to say that rediscovering this great band pulled me into the same state I was in years ago, enjoying every last bit of their music non-stop leaving me highly satisfied once again, if not more.
Letting this one slip away from me last year made me feel more compelled to give this band a much needed mention, not just because their latest album impressed me, but how solid of a band they are overall. Pendulum begins with a groovy bass, also immediately giving off that trippy feel their last album mixed in so well. Overall, the band’s sound rides along the path of the melodic, mainly death, but elements of black will emerge. Vocals are harsh, but the band doesn’t let the raspy growls take over for the entire duration, including clean singing that flows well, and creates a moving atmosphere.
A lot of great ideas are present in this album like Encounter the Monolith, surprising around almost every corner. The main title track Cold and the Silence starts off with a beautiful yet gloomy tone, until it boasts with melodic guitars. Martriden really know a thing or two about making their sound not only one that rips forth with groovy melodic riffs, but also moments can grow epic in sound as this track does, making you want to close your eyes and just be lost in the epic atmosphere. Invisible Cities brings out more of the hard-hitting riffs from the band, but still can seamlessly bring out a transcendental sound amid the more chaotic moments, never feeling the lest bit disconnected. Blackened Trees, one of the best tracks on the album, keeps the energy high and mighty, while balancing their trippy and epic sound all-in-one.
Martriden is a band that just makes me love metal so much, with the way they vary with many emotions in their music. They remain excelling with creativity in their latest offering that will take you through a trippy, yet beautifully crafted heavy and melodic journey that is tough to forget. Cold and the Silence is easily one of 2015’s best albums.
So formerly Montana-based and now Denver-based Progressive Black Metallers Martriden decided to go the Krallice route with the release of their latest album, and drop it onto Bandcamp earlier this week with little to no fanfare preceding its appearance. Thankfully for all of you, I’m a huge (borderline obese) fan of this band, so the second I spotted the message about its release I dived on it as if it were a live grenade/puppy and have been listening to it almost non-stop ever since.
What I’ve found, however, is that, for whatever reason, this is actually a pretty hard album to review. For me, anyway. I’ve written, deleted, and rewritten so many paragraphs about each track and then scrapped them totally so many times now that the version you’re currently reading bears little to no resemblance to what I originally intended when I first set out to form my thoughts into (semi)coherent sentences.
Largely that’s because the more I listened to the album the more trying to pick apart each track and label its component parts just started to feel overly reductive and futile, everything I was writing failing to get across the impression of creative cohesion that the album gives off, with all its various elements and aspects working in perfect harmony and balance.
Basically, what we have here is (Doctor Who fans take note) a hybrid that’s far greater than the mere sum of its parts.
Despite the five year gap between releases, though (including the departure of the band’s long-time main vocalist Michael Cook), Cold and the Silence still feels like a direct continuation/expansion of the darkly progressive, defiantly blackened vibes embodied on 2010’s Encounter the Monolith, albeit one which (if the artwork didn’t already clue you in) takes some significant steps in a more overtly prog-tinged and enigmatically indulgent direction than ever before.
The closest comparison is, as always, with the infamous Norwegian Space-Vikings known as Enslaved, and it’s clear to me that Cold and the Silence errs closest in tone and feel to the runic quintet’s infamous Below the Lights/Isa era — a time when they, too, elected to shift their sound firmly into the quantum realms of cosmic, blackened prog, much as Martriden have chosen to do here. Some of these similarities are of a more superficial nature, granted, with the vocals of Shane Howard, for example, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the commanding growl of Grutle Kjellson (though the cadence of Howard’s delivery frequently echoes that of his predecessor Michael Cook, resulting in a strong line of continuity between albums and incarnations of the band).
Others run a little deeper, however, such as the newly integrated, and extremely prominent, use of gloriously expressive clean vocals as a counterpoint to Howard’s gritty snarl, which serve to accelerate each song into the proggy stratosphere every time they appear (delivered, I believe, by Howard himself… though if they are in fact done by his brother Kyle, who also handles keyboards on Cold and the Silence, then these Enslaved comparisons become even harder to refute).
Most of all, however, the scintillating guitar work evident across these seven tracks demonstrates a prog-infused flair for energetic, creative riffing (pay close attention to the hard-driving opening bars of “Fear and Dread” for a prime example) and psychedelic cosmic atmosphere, which suggests that although Martriden certainly aren’t slaves to their influences (pun most definitely intended), they’re certainly walking a path that parallels that of their forebears… though its one that’s not without a number of divergent twists and turns of its own.
That being said, although the lithe, intricate bass work (courtesy of enviably talented session bassist Mark Grabowski) hints at unexpected influences from the classic Tech/Prog/Death stylings of latter-day Death and early Cynic (check out the opening bars of “Pendulum” for an immediate example), this is most definitely a Martriden album, through and through.
Across the length and breadth of Cold and the Silence the guitar tandem of Shane Howard and Will Thackeray repeatedly hammer this point home by delivering a riveting array of diamond-sharp, glass-cutting riffs (such as the laser-guided main riff of “Invisible Cities”, or the stuttering, Death Metal inflections present throughout “The Grey”) which sound like no-one else but Martriden – rhythmically, structurally, melodically – and which, hypothetically speaking, could almost have appeared on any of their previous releases.
This solid foundation, this clearly defined sense of self, is exactly what allows the band to experiment and expand their sound on Cold and the Silence, without fear of losing the thread of their identity in the process.
Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the utterly fantastic integration of a multitude of majestic clean vocal parts throughout the album, which eschew the vapid simplicity of poppy melody in favour of a deeper and longer-lasting memorability that exists in service of each track – rather than as its sole focal point.
Whether it’s the solemn resignation evident in the clean-sung refrain of “The Grey” or the mournful melodic passages present in grandiose closer “Consequence”, each of these sections serves to add yet another impressive string to the band’s bow, and despite their undeniable catchiness, there’s never a moment where you find yourself listening to a song just for its clean vocals. They’re all integrated as part of a greater whole, and all the better for it.
In the end it’s taken me almost 700 words to get back to the key point I made right at the start of this review – that this is an album that’s all about balance, an album primarily concerned with exploration and expression, with all these different elements and aspects, from scything riffs to soaring clean vocals, from rippling drum work to evocative keys and subtle acoustic ambience, working in harmony in service of a greater, overarching vision.
So if you’re looking for an album unafraid to paint with vivid, striking colours, unafraid to break with convention and follow a more progressive, creative, and downright compelling path – all without giving an inch in terms of scorching, spitfire riffage and focussed, potent fury – then Cold and the Silence is most definitely the album for you.