A New Band – ‘Em, Not Quite
Sometimes a new band comes along that you have never heard and impresses you greatly. You listen to the music and think “wow!”. This was kind of my reaction on listening to a couple of tracks from the album called intriguingly Old Eyes, New Heart by the band Madder Mortem. I started to read the press blurb and found out they were NOT a new band. They formed back in 1993 as Mystery Tribe, but changed it to what we see now back in 1997 and released their first album under the new moniker in 1999 (Mercury) and then another 6 up until now. This is their eighth album and their first in six years since 2018’s Marrow.
The band hail from Norway and feature siblings in singer Agnete Kirkevaag and her brother known as BP who is one of the 2 guitarists, the other being Anders Langberg who is the newest member of the band arriving in 2018. The band is completed by bassist Tormod Langøien Moseng and drummer Mads Solås. On reading up I saw the band described as “technical/extreme prog metal” which they are… a bit!
There is a lot more to the band as they go into all kinds of musical territories carving the styles into something unique and beautiful. Singer Agnete has a great voice and utilises it in different ways. There are some (not many) harsh vocals but I am not 100% sure if they are by Agnete or one of the guys who from my reading nearly all help with backing vocals. Some of the backing melodies vocal-wise are definitely sung by Agnete though.
The album features 10 tracks and runs for around 48 minutes. Half the songs are just over 5 minutes long with the longer songs not going over 7 minutes. There are no epics as such, all the songs are tight yet have plenty going on to keep one’s attention. There is a good mix of about 4 songs each that are in the heavy/metal vibe and 4 more gentle and reflective with a couple more bonkers and eccentric. Much to enjoy.
There are no lyrics with the promo so I can only guess what the songs are about but there are elements of looking back and starting anew along with a song that could be about an unhealthy relationship. The album was being written and or recorded when sadly both Agnete and BP lost their father who it seems was quite an advocate and supporter of the band. Their dad was making the art for the album but passed before it was completed. However, a long-time friend Costin Chioreanu helped to finish the artwork which adorns the album in their dad’s honour. The album fittingly is dedicated to their dad.
From Heavy Music To Sultry Vocals
The album opener “Coming From The Dark” starts off atmospherically, quite quiet with an almost military-style riff or drum pattern building up and becoming louder, and when the vocals come in they are topped and tailed by percussion, kind of like the drummer is playing around the vocals. The track changes into almost a doom metal track (I believe the original band in 1993 were doom in style) but with definite prog influences added.
I did note both Devin Townsend and Mastodon influences coming through at points. It is all very dramatic with the vocals becoming almost shouted at one point. They manage to keep so much melody going, especially in the chorus sections yet it is a rather heavy piece. I was captivated on first listen and after many listens I still am.
“On Guard” starts all jazzy, a touch of almost “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles whilst not being slightly like it at all (yes that does sound weird but it makes sense on hearing, honest). The guitar effects and solo are bluesy, country and I think if Ry Cooder made music for a Tarantino or perhaps David Lynch movie it could sound like this. Agnete does a marvelous sultry vocal on this as well.
“Master Tongue” is one of the tracks that are on the bonkers side! It kicks in hard, heavy, and brutal with screams but after 30 seconds whilst still keeping up the pace it drops down for the vocal. The lyrics seem quite sarcastic such as her singing that “your mistakes were never wrong“.
The chorus melodically is upbeat yet it sounds very dark due to the words and vocals. The juxtaposition of musical styles and sometimes music and words keeps the listener almost in limbo. There is plenty to enjoy on this song as it moves around style wise.
“The Head That Wears The Crown” has a pop vibe, a very easy-on-the-ear melody before going heavier. There is conflict within the music which fits the lyrics, for instance there is a line that goes “stop pretending I don’t need you when it’s obvious I do, there’s nothing I need more than having you “. The way the lyrics “you wait to see” respond to the heavy riff section is great composition.
The album floats between light and heavy, at times focusing on riffs and drum patterns, at others melody and mood. “Cold Hard Rain” starts like jazzy music in a film noir with the lyrics going “cold rain and grey skies slowly brings lines upon your face” painting a vivid picture of the scene.
The vocal is quite exposed here as the music is almost bare, there is little to hear, almost to make you focus on the words. The piece gets even more ominous as the music comes through and words are elongated, said or sung slowly. It made me think of Nick Cave at one point. So damned evocative. As the story progresses it heavies up with the guitar chords sounding like tolling bells and wails of distress vocally. It is absolutely brilliant.
Both “Unity” and “Towers” are harder-edged rockers with the former having a guitar line that brought to mind Devin, particularly sections of “Ziltoid“. The song gets more urgent as it goes on with a spoken words section near the end. The latter is very heavy and is fun to attempt to headbang to. I have no idea what time sig it is in but it is a challenge to keep up. The chorus is very strong and catchy but I think the song is a dark one and is about an unhealthy relationship with a lyric that sounds like “clinging on to what defeats you“. Maybe one shouldn’t try?
Capturing Moods And Emotions
“Here And Now” is another jazzier number with a pop feel. A gorgeous vocal and musically gentle for the most part. There is a heavier section (but not metal) but it comes and goes quite quickly twice, the second time near the end where she sings “and now my heart will break” with the backing vocal going “nothing I can do” bringing a sense of hopelessness. I might be wrong but I feel this might have been written about their dad especially due to the last line “you were the centre of my world” (at least I think those are the words). If it is then it is a lovely epitaph to him.
“Things I’ll Never Do” is the opposite, faster, heavier, doom doom-inspired but with progressive edges. The vocals are clean, crisp and clear for the most part but again on one of the heavier sections there are some growls and screams. It sounds on the whole very menacing and threatening, even the more laid-back part. Another with a strong chorus, infectious yet with a hint of danger. They finish with “Long Road” which lyrically says “it’s been a long few years… it’s been a long road” which captures the mood of the music and probably their lives as writers and musicians.
The obvious Covid period and then losing their father must have been difficult to bear. I am sure many listeners will be able to identify. There is a line about how the road “dwindles when it’s shared” which I thought was interesting. This is such a lovely mellow piece with a plaintive vocal and jazzy vibe musically. The drums at the end sound to me like the ones that start the album (I am not a drummer so don’t shoot me if I am wrong) and if they are it is clever, bringing the album full circle.
Better Late Than Never? Get Onboard The Train
What can I say? What can I add? This is an absolutely brilliant album, full of emotion and musical styles, all gathered together in a wonderful way that is a treat to the ears. The writing and arranging along with the musicianship and vocals are all top-notch. How I missed out on this band until now I have no idea, but as they say it is “better late than never”, in my case it is VERY late.
This is a band that should be better known and I hope in this review I can help in some small way for that to happen. Anyone who loves well-constructed, challenging yet accessible songs, has an open mind to different styles should fall in love like I have. Jump on the late train here! This is spellbindingly brilliant. Album is out on January 26 on Dark Essence Records!
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Check out my other reviews and articles here. Tom.