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This is a far cry from anything Nightrage have previous released from the first song right through to the last. This has class written all over it; a great record to listen to at any stage in the day, whilst very much similar to other bands in the genre. It has a better production, making it that much better than any recent releases from the northern European metal scene including of In Flames' newest release (Sounds of a Playground Fading).
In general, this album features a lot of material covered before, swathing guitars played harmoniously together with better vocals from Anthony than featured of previous albums under Gus. In relation to previous releases, it's in their top 2 against A New Disease is Born, but this is marginally better as it's a more all-around album featuring good solos, great vocals, and even better lyrics.
Right from the off, you know this album's going to be good with the beginning of Shed This Blood breaking you in after about 10 seconds into the brutality, and the musical genius of this album is a far cry from anything Nightrage have done previously, shredding riffs throughout that over the past 5 albums have become very much a signature of the band.
Lyrically, this album differs from previous releases by manner of how unthought-provoking it is, possibly in a bad way but more than likely good, as it allows for the listener to interpret the album in any given way they prefer and taking any messages and allowing them to chew it over before opting whether it relates to them or not. A sign of a sheer master class in this genre.
This album appears to be much in the way of a natural successor to At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul, a relentless force that leaves you wanting more, but unlike At the Gates' release after. Nightrage are unlikely to disappoint as recordings have shown on their Youtube that the next album will be as amazing as the current one.
Although originally an interesting blend of the high fidelity, heavily guitar oriented power metal that Gus G. helped propagate in the early 2000s with latent Children Of Bodom tendencies and growled vocals, Nightrage has since become more of a latecomer to the world of Gothenburg melodeath. So much so, that not only did the band’s actual sound become heavily similar to that of latter 90s In Flames, but that the band’s founder actually moved the band to the famed home of said band and their cohorts and rebuilt it entirely of Swedes, save himself. And while originality alone does not a spectacular album make, more often than not it is a necessary part of the equation, and insofar as “Wearing A Martyr’s Crown” is concerned, this is the principle area where the album comes up short.
This is the sort of album that, while not quite delivering that special something that demands a full and loving devotion the way that early At The Gates or Skyfire tends to, is still entertaining, fun, and even highly impressive. There is no real deficit in terms of energy or aggression where the riff work, the extravagant leads, or the pummeling rhythm section is concerned. The tendencies are more towards the speed/thrash character of Kalmah and the “Colony” to “Clayman” era of In Flames where Dan Svensson took over kit destroying duties. One can’t listen to the high octane goodness of “Shed The Blood”, “Abandon” or “Failure Of All Human Emotions” and help but feel a slight familiarity to the blinding speed assault that typified “Persecution Mania”, albeit painted over with woeful melodies that hint more at a lamenting rage rather than a percussive fit of vileness more typical of Sodom.
When the speed and fury dies down, this album elects to go a similar route of acoustic interludes as that of many others in this style, but with somewhat of a different attitude. Whenever contemplating the droning acoustic lines heard on “The Jester Race”, the usual theme is one of a hypnotized hopelessness with a sense of coldness. In contrast, when digesting the elaborate flamenco line towards the end of “Collision Of Fate”, or the formulaic broken passages heard on “Futile Tears” and “Mocking Modesty”, there is a warmer feeling in spite of the implicit darkness. The best analogy would be to that of the ballad work on a various number of Gus G. projects aside from this one, which almost makes one wonder if Marios is attempting to keep this band’s ex-lead guitarist’s ghost in the band through more than just the radically similar solos put forth by Dragonland head cutter Olof Mörck.
Ironically, or perhaps not so much so, the area where this current manifestation of Nightrage falls a bit short is in the same general areas where In Flames tended to during their latter days before the merger with metalcore. Vocalist Antony Hämäläinen is all but a perfect carbon copy of Anders Fridén with maybe a tiny bit of more overt metalcore trappings in line with the past couple of Killswitch Engage albums here and there. He doesn’t come off as being quite as whiny, but his style is definitely a far cry from the orthodoxy of the early death metal barks where it draws its influences from, and comes off as more hipster distortion of Chuck Schuldiner than anything else. A higher end production in line with the present practices does little to mask this, and actually only further accentuates the parallels with several current day metalcore bands.
Nevertheless, this still would qualify as something worthy of the Nightrage name and of melodeath, and would be a positive credit to metalcore if it were actually in that genre apart from the vocals. They may not have Gus G anymore, but for the most part they still have what it takes to keep everyone’s ears ringing and eyes bulging. Those who really went for the 2nd half of In Flames’ early era and a number of other bands from the late 90s who played in this style from Dark Tranquillity to Soilwork, this is a decent listen, though it doesn’t quite have the unique blend of elegance and rage that typifies “Sweet Vengeance”, which is the recommended starting place for this band.
Nightrage - Wearing a Marty’s Crown
The Gothenberg melodic death metal sound has made a name for itself through the years and bands such as At the Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility have long been the pioneers for the genre.
At some point in 2003 a new band emerged and that band’s name was Nightrage (NR). Though NR has gone through several changes in its recent history, one thing has stayed the same, and that’s Marios Iliopoulos’s will to contribute with his amazing song writing skills and tremendous musicianship to the core sound that is, melodic death metal.
Those who are familiar with NR should know that this has been Marios’s band from the very beginning, which he founded with his blood brother Gus G. Placing immense value on previous band members, such as major screamer Tomas Lindberg, classic genre drummer Per Moller Jensen and of course amazing solo guitarist Gus G is actually crediting NR’s success to the wrong direction.
In my opinion what previous NR members added to Marios’s compositions is bits that made his earlier works shine even further and even brighter. The main work though and 99% of the music, meaning riffs, solos, acoustic guitars, twin guitar work and the like, that we have come to appreciate and love come directly from the main riff-master, guitar prodigy and great musician that is Marios Iliopoulos. Furthermore, the fans of this particular genre and even more those of NR, owe that much recognition to Marios Iliopoulos and that is something I felt I needed to stress on, since even in critiques and reviews of NR material, many seem to (deliberately or not) forget it.
Eventually coming to NR’s fourth full-length attempt, “Wearing a Martyr’s Crown” one sees a band in the process of getting back to its roots, to the core of what one could define it to be, the melodic death metal genre. Not that the band had ever strayed too far. Marios is famous for being able to successfully combine aggression and melody. This is what NR do best. They open up with a ferocious death metal riff that does carry melodic lines within it and then back it up with an amazing, highly memorable and full of melody chorus that the listeners won’t be able to take out of their minds even after the album has finished. A good example is opener “Shed the Blood”. Twin guitars, beautiful solos and acoustic parts are also crucial in NR’s sound. For instance, take a good listen to “A Grim Struggle” where Marios masterfully blends heaviness with an amazing acoustic melody that works as a bridge introducing an incredibly passionate solo immediately after! Or listen to the second solo of the title track where one can hear what a profound guitar player Marios is and how his soloing style is unique and not just another copycat of the greats, just like so many other metal musicians.
Moreover, there is a lot of feeling within most of the songs of this last album. Songs like “Collision of Fate”, “A Grim Struggle”, “Wearing a Martyr’s Crown” and the never missing instrumental “Strings of Remorse” (one of the finest that NR have ever written) are great examples of melo-death tunes with a lot of soul and feel for genuine melodies that will speak directly to one’s heart!
The members joining Marios in this 4th attempt are Antony Hämäläinen vocalist, Anders Hammer bassist, Jo Nunez drummer and Olof Mörck guitarist.
Starting off with the rhythm section I have to say that the dudes do a superb job on “Wearing a Martyr’s Crown”. I think it’s one of NR’s best efforts in terms of achieving a solid low-end frequency complemented by earth shattering double bass drumming. Nunez is filling the songs well with nothing groundbreaking in terms of style, still effectively satisfying the norm for melodic death metal. Adding a great sound for the toms, bass and snare to that and you really can’t ask for more in terms of his instrument!
Furthermore, the guitars and vocals sound phenomenal. I think Olof has a thing for melody and it really shows in his solos. They are both technically solid and impressive but very melodic as well. That’s an excellent combination that adds to NR’s music and sound. The new vocalist is an addition to the right direction for the band. Antony has the ability to sing both clean and brutal vocals and the man has a firm range. I think his style suits very well with the music on here. Having seen NR perform live in a full house in Thessaloniki for their Greek tour in 2010, I must admit that Antony’s performance was as good as in the album. Not very often do you get that, especially in death metal.
The production and mix done in Fredman Studios is one of NR’s best to date and can be summarized as a great sounding rhythm section (bass frequency has great depth to it and the drum sound is as described above phenomenal) upon which riffs, twin guitars, acoustic parts and solos are naturally built. The vocals both clean and brutal sound awesome. The guitar sound is thick with a lot of gain and enough layers to it, to make it sound just right for a melodic death metal album. All in all, “Wearing a Martyr’s Crown” sonically is a very good effort by the band and producer Fredrik Nordström.
In an effort to further promote the new album, NR did their second ever video for “Wearing a Martyr’s Crown” with Bob Katsionis. The video is showing the band playing to the title track in the studio. Excellent song choice by the band, with the end-result being impressive and of professional quality clearly.
In conclusion, if you have heard of Nightrage, you should know to expect melodic death metal of the highest quality and therefore you should go and get this album before it runs out! If you have not yet heard of them, (which I find almost impossible if you’re a melo-death listener) then give it a shot. You will be very thrilled. Trust me.
When an individual's favourite album is criticised their brain begins to falter at even the most basic levels and as a result they lash out at the critic in question with a barrage of inane criticism and complaints; "You're just jealous", "Where's your album/music, huh?", "You just don't get *genre*/*band*". Sometimes though they will keep a tight grip on the reins to their mind and make an argument they think is intelligent and scathing; it's not. A favourite of mine is being accused of not being objective, which is then usually paired with the accusation that there's too much exaggeration and hyperbole for the criticism and observations to be taken seriously.
So for your entertainment the following will be a completely objective analysis of the track "Collision of Fate" from the Nightrage album 'Wearing a Martyr's Crown'; I'm basically going to perform a vivisection on this sucker to show you what is objectively good and bad.
0:00 - 0:20; Opening lead line is basically a faster and wankier version of the lead line from the beginning of "Dialogue with the Stars" by In Flames.
0:20 - 0:49; Fast, power chord riffing with slight divergences into the main riff from (again) "Dialogue with the Stars"
0:49 - 1:20; Fairly generic power/folk metal chorus riff that could have easily been lifted from 'The Varangian Way'. Followed up by a similarly generic melody line in a similar style.
1:20 - 1:45; Kind of sounds like a slower, power chord version of the opening riff to "Artifacts of the Black Rain". It's shit either way.
1:45 - 2:29; Main riff followed by chorus.
2:29 - 2:48; Another slowed down riff. Spoken word stuff floating in the background that no one cares about.
2:48 - 3:16; Melody line that wouldn't sound out of place on 'Whoracle'
3:16 - 3:28; Solo is sandwiched between the obnoxiously loud double bass drums and rhythm guitar so it's hard to tell if he was playing anything good without straining to listen. Deemed to be not worth the effort.
3:28 - 4:10; Chorus.
4:10 - 4:28; Slow riff again.
4:28 - 5:14; First obligatory acoustic guitar passage of the album! This one has more of a flamenco style. The instrumental skill is well above average but it makes little to no sense in relation to the song and being placed at the end doesn't help.
Now of course the previous paragraph is excessive and practically borderline aspergian; no one wants to read that shit and I don't blame you for skipping over it if you did because it's fucking boring. The notes I jotted down while listening to this album are a super-condensed version of this, and the reviews I write are a summary of those notes tied together with how I reacted to the elements within the music.
Following on that line of thought let's actually describe 'Wearing a Martyr's Crown'; a half-rate 'Whoracle' rip-off most of the time with smatterings of modern metalcore and some latter-era Soilwork influence, along with an obsession for unnecessary acoustic passages that borders on being a fetish. The vocals are a raspy bark that lies somewhere between Anders Friden and Alexi Laiho, with a complete lack of emotion or power, this is coupled with an occasional indulgence in some spoken-word and whispering sections ("Collision of Fate", "Wearing a Martyr's Crown", "Futile Tears"). The only good moments on the album are the main riff in "Failure of All Human Emotion" which has a bit of a "Chainheart Machine" vibe to it and the entire song "Sting of Remorse" since it's an instrumental which gives the band members a chance to not write horribly derivative gothenburg riffs and put the acoustic guitar to use in an appropriate manner for once.
Actually I don't know why I even wrote that last paragraph since it would have been just as accurate to tell you to re-read the song vivisection another ten times and then vary the amount of acoustic passages and other metalcore-isms each time. From an objective standpoint 'Wearing a Martyr's Crown' is a flat-out terrible and boring album and if you like it, then from that same standpoint you are a fucking plank.
Nightrage has had numerous lineup changes over the past few albums, which can't have been helpful to developing a core sound. Luminaries Gus G. (Firewind, Mystic Prophecy) and Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, etc) have been out of the band for some time, and this new album features the 3rd vocalist in three albums (Jimmie Strimmell now replaced with Antony Hämäläinen). Regardless, surviving founder Marios Iliopoulos forges on with Wearing a Martyr's Crown, the band's fourth opus, a stronger effort than 2007's A New Disease is Born and one of their best.
Aggressive, choppy death metal infused with glorious melody is Nightrage's forte, and this has not changed with the new material. Hämäläinen does not have the Lindberg snarl which permeated the first two albums, but his blunt and full caustic throat-jabs are powerful enough to deliver a sufficient hammering. His growls reminds me often of Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow. "Shed the Blood" opens the album with brief ritual ambience/chants into a soaring and spiffy melodic burst, incorporating some Soilwork/In Flames -like bouncing grooves. "Collision of Fate" features some killer leads and flowing verse riffs, maintaing the pace and the level of excitement. "A Grim Struggle" is even better, with some great melodic riffing. The title track is notable for its grimy bass grooving which leads into a kickass thrash bridge, and some climbing melodies and wild sporadic leads. Probably the best track overall. Other notable tracks include the rocking madness of "Among Wolves" and the intense, At the Gates thrust of "Failure of All Human Emotions".
Wearing a Martyr's Crown sounds great, in particular the guitars, which balance their excess melodies with the thrashing, winding juggernaut rhythms. I do feel that Hämäläinen's vocals are a tad high in the mix, akin to what you'd hear on a lot of sub-par melodeath/metalcore albums (particularly from the US), but this guy's vocals aren't all that bad, just loud. The guitar work of Iliopoulos and Olof Mörck is the real backbone of the album. It's not quite a masterpiece of the melodeath genre, but it should appeal to long-time fans of the Swedish style and Nightrage in particular.
When melodic death metal took off in the late 90s like a bat out of hell, there were many bands that popped up that probably didn't deserve the recognition. But this oversaturation made it hard to find those diamond gems of the newer bands too, like the ever vigilant Nightrage. Their debut album, Sweet Vengeance is still one of my favorite Melodic Death albums ever and I have been a die hard fan since then.
Many fans did criticize the band when they moved in a more modern direction on their last album, A New Disease is Born (I loved it to be honest with all of you!) so all of those critics will be pleased to hear Nightrage’s fourth studio release, Wearing a Martyr's Crown, is a return to that solid Gothenburg sound that they used on their first two releases. Even though I loved their third album, I must admit it was nice to hear the band get back to their roots on this one as it was one of the reasons why I fell in love with them in the first place.
Considering that Nightrage is essentially 'the Mario Iliopoulos project' and he is the only remaining founding member, and ironically, the only member in the band that was around before 2007, this album still remains largely within that sound he has created. The never ending melodies from the two guitarists that overlay riffs and other melodies are what make Wearing a Martyr's Crown a truly unique experience. It seems like no matter what, there is always some sort of guitar lead or sick solo there (okay maybe not always considering some songs do carry over that more modern take like the bass and drum opening to the title track) and whether it be electric or acoustic guitar they make it catchy and memorable. I haven't heard such good acoustic work placed in death metal since In Flames' Whoracle and that is a definite plus to keep the variety and song writing aspect of this album moving. Mario has come this time with all guns blazing.
I have to attribute a lot of this throwback sound to new singer Antony Hämäläinen. Replacing Jimmie Strimell, who went to work on his pop/metal act Dead By April, Antony brings it all to the table on this one, and truly adds that death metal aspect nicely. He roars with the best and I would even compare his sound to that of original Nightrage singer and legend Tomas Lindburg. His gravely scream is complemented with some occasional singing during slow sections for a nice balance. Don't worry elitists! The singing only appears a handful of times and lasts briefly even if it works nicely.
By the end of my listening experience of Wearing a Martyr's Crown I was immensely pleased with the return of one my favorite melodic death metal bands. This is their best album since their debut and it easily blows past their last two in terms of catchiness and solid song writing. This is going to be a must have for fans of the genre and a general great release (probably in my top 10 for 2009…we'll see). Hopefully, this line-up retains for the next one too as this is the perhaps the strongest line-up Mario has seen in ages.
Songs to check out: Shed the Blood, Wearing a Martyr's Crown, Futile Tears.
Originally written for The Metal Observer.