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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.