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After the band's Martriden EP, there was no doubt a feeding frenzy of interest due to their highly professional, polished pedigree of the Montana band, and thus it is no surprise that Candlelight Records licensed the band's debut full-length album from Siege of Amida for release in the North American territories. The Unsettling Dark is a direct continuation of the musical ideas put forth on the prior EP, so you can expect a lot of unhallowed, massive atmosphere affixed to the primal battering of the drums and rhythm guitars that tend towards the more basal, chugging elements of the spectrum. This atmosphere arrives in both the near constant use of synthesizers against the backdrop, and the melodies shot off across the bough of the moshing torment.
This also marks the beginning of Martriden's fixation with conceptual themes that run though the course of their albums. Here, of course, we are dealing with fate, death and purgatory, while the later (and somewhat better) Encounter the Monolith deals with more cosmic proportions. Don't let the beautiful, spectral female figure gracing the cover fool you for too long, this is a harrowing, pummeling affair offering a lot of broken and bruised limbs to those who decide to explore it in the local pit. But let's not sell it short, it is better written than the previous EP and the band are by no means a one trick pony, just as high on creating an atmospheric whole as they are kicking your ass back into the Montana woodlands from which their creative impetus erupted...
...and kick your ass they will, once the morose intro piece passes into the gloom, all octave chords spanned over chugging, a discordant tail chord quickly ceding to the neck breaking rhythms that inaugurate "The Enigma of Fate". Choppy, convoluted thrashing melodies and walls of mesmeric torment characterize the next 5:30 minutes, the band almost decided to leave nothing of you left to experience the rest of the album. I can't say most of the riffs here are individually thrilling, but as a whole they deliver the Martriden experience pretty seriously, and fit flush with the next track, "The Calling", which is nearly as punishing, though slightly more atmospheric, with a fine melodic bridge to it. The two-parter "Ascension" first offers an escalating juggernaut, the most progressive piece on the album thus far, and then a mellow but climbing instrumental second half that becomes quite immersive when the chords begin to charge. Ascension, indeed.
At this point, it's back to the bone breaking, "Processional for the Hellfire Chariot", which opens like a heavier, crushing Testament and then dissolves into a chugging, squealing morass sure to snap any limbs left over from the first few tracks. "The Unsettling Dark" bounces back to calm, its intro segment beautiful and lush with the ringing synthesizers and well constructed clean guitars...this is, of course, not going to last, and within a minute they'll be laying out the biggest smackdown of the album, in which I'd consider my favorite song here. "Prelude" and "A Season in Hell" also deliver the formula tastefully, the former a dreadnought of dementia, the latter eclipsing its big grooves with transcendent keyboard-driven atmospheres and bouncing, curiously thick thrashing fervor. The finale, acoustic instrumental "Immaculate Perception" incorporates some Rachmaninoff into its blissful awakening, like rising from a bad dream.
The Unsettling Dark is more than appropriate as a debut album, building upon the fragments of potential that characterized the EP before it. The individual riffs are better, and it better regulates the balance of brute, storming momentum and periods of frightening calm. Again, Martriden is a very accessible brand of extreme metal, in both the production values and the actual composition. You will not find infinite layers of complexity, much of the material just hammers you up front. That is not to marginalize the proficiency of the band, each player here is taut and excellent, but they rein themselves in far more than, say, your average frenzied West Coast modern USDM band. The album is not short on ambition, even though its individual elements might seem familiar when deconstructed, and thus it is well worth hearing.
Generally I'm not a fan of melodic death metal anymore. About a year and a bit ago I was still somewhat interested in the subgenre and after reading some glowing reviews I couldn't help but check out Martriden's The Unsettling Dark. Martriden apparently became a minor underground phenomenon in the melodic death/black scene thanks to this release. It's pretty easy to see why after listening to this album. It's got all the good elements of the genre, but has zero creativity.
The first track is titled "Intro" and needless to say I'm getting pretty sick of titles with no thought put into them. You don't call the second track "Song Two." It's fucking lazy. Anyway the song after the rather dull "Intro," "The Enigma Of Fate," is strong, and has a distinct dark tone to it. It really sets the mood for the rest of The Unsettling Dark."The Ascension" is probably my favorite song on the album (including both parts), and really has a soaring sort of feel to it. Something you'd hear from an early '90s era In Flames or At The Gates really, but with a more epic, all-encompassing feel to it. The rest of the tracks blend with highlights here and there, like the title track and "Seasons In Hell." In fact, none of the songs on The Unsettling Dark feel weak bar the worthless "Intro" track; hell even "Prelude" is better. The use of the keyboard really does add to the atmosphere of each song, and the way the guitars are mixed actually gives them some impact unlike similar releases.
Unlike some other recent releases in the subgenre, this album bears no metalcore influence. The Unsettling Dark has plenty of blast beats and strong, somewhat sinister riffs. However when I listen to it I have a feeling I've heard it all before.
I would go as far to say Martriden is the prime representative of the new North American melodic death/black metal sound. The Unsettling Dark is a dark, catchy, interesting, and wholly unoriginal album. It feels like It's a great album that I've heard many times over, and most of the bands that play in this style are unoriginal as well. The last two tracks feature some interesting acoustic, classical guitar sections but once again it's all been done by artists years earlier. Another complaint is the overabundance of instrumentals. Sure, I like a good instrumental track as much as the next person, but having "Intro," "Prelude," and the closing track "Immaculate Perception" all be instrumentals, it makes the album feel disjointed. If they worked on transitioning between tracks and added some original ideas, I think this band could really go somewhere in the future.
After listening to the "The Art Of Death Infernal" close to fifty consecutive times and still throwing the horns each time Michael Cook says, "I hear the choirs of the damned!" I couldn't restrain myself from being hyped up at the thought of Martriden's new stuff. I had read a few reviews that said this may very well be one of the best blackened death metal album this year (and the year has just begun!). Well, it's probably an over-hyped album.
Martriden, as I can best describe it, is an almost melodic death metal band with black metal portions. It's not entirely brutal and it has some moments which can be considered pretty melodic. They have synths backing some of the melodies (in one song, the synths actually KILL the melody), but for the most part they're only there for nuance and not center stage like some other bands use them. What's really sad is there is only one solo in the entire album (if I remember correctly)! It's in the song The Ascension Part 1 (which, ironically, is one of the shortest songs on the album minus the intro). [Sidenote: Speaking of the intro, the first 10 seconds put me in stitches. I had to replay it four or five times before I stopped laughing! I'll tip my hat to the band for that gesture (my sentiments exactly).]
I'll give you the bad first. The thing that bogs down the album the most is that there really isn't much heart in it, nor too much originality. There are hooks in there that a pretty good, and it's all well-done and the production value is there, but if you're a fan of the genre (which you probably are if you're searching Metal-Archives.com for reviews on bands you don't know in death/melo-death/blackened-death genres), then you've probably heard this material before here and there.
Well, the good I kind of touched on already. The production is great. It sounds great! Also, the way the songs are structured is good, interesting and not boring in the least. The best [complete] song on the album is The Ascension Part 1. I could definitely see this song starting a pit in concert. Also noteworthy are the vocals. I think they were done extraordinarily well for the most part. Michael Cook mixes up between black metal rasp and death metal growls, although this album is mostly the raspy stuff.
They have a couple acoustic moments in the album. Some of it remembers me of Vehemence (while some of the hypsters call it Opethian -- I disagree, it's definitely not, but it is nearly in the same doomish/melodic vein). And some other parts remind me a mix between doom and melodic metal. The Ascension Part 2 could be something that was cut from In Flames' Whoracle before mass production. There are moments like these scattered here and there in the album, but I think they don't add much value to the album. None are particularly memorable (although well executed).
I'd say Martriden has a very, very bright future. If they can hone their talents and find their niche and their own sound, they could be great. I think they have shown a flash here and there of what they're capable of (see: "The Art of Death Infernal", "The Ascension Pt. 1"). And also... for godsake, throw a dog a bone and give us some friggen solos!