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Raw, Emotional, Dynamic - 98%

GMThomas, November 15th, 2009

"The Tatterdemalion Express" is one of the most powerful, organic, and raw debut albums I have ever heard, while remaining solid and consistent. One of the best things about debut albums is they are essentially the band in its most organic and emotional forms - before professionalism, streamlined compositions, and maturity cast a shadow over the powerful outpourings of the band's creative desires. Because of this, many bands stumble and provide for an error-prone, difficult listening experience, but Mar de Grises gratuitously provide an album that drips with emotion while retaining consistency, excellent songwriting, and a very well-developed overlying theme.

Perhaps the strongest element of the album, and what consistently provides the core of the music, is Marcelo R.'s vocal and keyboard work. The vocals range from traditional, deep death growling to ragged, tortured wailing. Beleaguered, pained, harsh whispering is also frequently used, along with reasonable clean vocals. Although the singing is nothing fantastic, it fits in well, with Marcelo's fatigued and strained voice not soaring above the music - but instead rooted firmly in the desolate atmosphere of it. The keyboard work he provides is also fantastic, and the solo piano piece in the middle of the album is testament to how much he adds to the overall sound of the album, even though most of the keyboard work is generally atmospheric or otherwise buried behind the dark thunder of the guitars. I cannot comment on the lyrics as half of them are in Spanish and the English half are fairly hard to decipher, although some lines and stanzas really stand out.

The guitar and bass work is excellent. Though not incredibly technical, the riffing and leads are always interesting and fluid, and the bass is solid and quite audible, providing a good backdrop. The drumming is also very good, featuring fast double-bass runs and fairly technical beats. I have a sore spot with the loudness of the drums during the soft parts of some songs, and many of the fills are simply just average.

The album has a very muddy sound to it, with all the instruments being sonically quite huge. In particular, the drums are loud and punchy, the snare and toms heavily reverbed. The overall sound is a barrage of instruments and melodies weaving out of each other, surrounding the listener from every direction. The vocals are mixed very well, not overpowering but particularly ear-piercing at key points.

The overall composition is what makes this album the masterpiece it is. Melodies weave in and out, riffs are hardly repeated, but the songs retain their overall theme, even through numerous sections of heavy and clean. One of the best examples of the excellent songwriting on this album is "To See Saturn Fall" which goes from standard vocal and guitar fare to a complete breakdown of all the instruments (and not the shitty *core kind, mind you), which is then picked back up, and the band smashes you in the face with one fucking amazing two-minute instrumental outro. The overall originality, brilliance, and fluidness of this song easily makes it one of the greatest songs I have ever heard. "To See Saturn Fall" is also the emotional high point of the album. Every other song is deeply depressive, dark, and suffering. From the painful, abrupt wails on "...El Otro" to the beautiful piano melodies on "Self Portrait No. 1," the music does little do dig itself out of a deep, cold hole of emptiness and sadness. It manages to maintain such a dark theme, even through barrages of fast riffing, double-bass runs, and quick-moving melodies, making the listening experience dynamic and interesting, with hardly any droning. However, a few songs, such as "Storm" are more standard-fare for doom metal in terms of speed, featuring slow clean build ups to labored, crushing riffs.

Overall, this album is an incredibly depressing journey, filled with emotion, and providing an incredibly interesting listening experience and presenting a perfect blend of rawness with solid songwriting.