Evil Dr. Smith : "Madder Mortem is noise that lives and thinks.” (Hugo & Smith)
Much has been said and written about emotions and music. How music our emotions affects, touches and plays: it began with Plato and Aristotle, and you will find an endless stream of articles on the Internet. Music is emotion. Not infrequently there is a reference to songs that play a role during crucial moments in one's life. Or songs that are linked to a certain mood that they support and/or enhance. However, I hardly ever read anything (whether or not (pseudo-)scientifically) about the emotion in the music itself. The intrinsic emotion in music. What is the emotional component in a song? An aria drenched in pain and sorrow sung by Maria Callas, the blackish scream-phlegms of hatred of old Darkthrone or the passionate dramatic refrain "'Cause I love you, yes I love you, oh, how I love you" by Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues in 'Nights in White Satin’? And is it true and pure emotion, or is it just a matter of good practice in the studio?
Singer Agnete M. Kirkevaag, the air raid siren of the Norwegian Madder Mortem, convinces me with hard evidence of real emotion. At the end of the opening track 'Blood On The Sand' she sings so diligently and with fire that her voice cracked from intensity. A breaking voice: where do you hear that these days? Where and when have I heard it at all on a record? How pure do you want it? It gives the already fantastic song even more intensity and authenticity. The goose bumps stick rigidly to all my limbs. Goddamn, what a heart-stopping final of an exhilarating song that already was bulging with thrilling tempo changes, doomy riffs and catchy vocals. Madder Mortem is back, and perhaps stronger than ever!
It took the band no less than seven years to come up with a successor for 'Eight Ways' (apart from the EP 'Where Dream and Day Collide’ (2010)). After a search for a new second guitarist and a new record label (their fourth now, and they are now six albums on the way) they finally passed the seven lean years. It’s about bloody time! Up till their fifth album I gave the band a warm heart, a very warm heart, I was quite apprehensive beforehand whether the band had managed to preserve their completely unique sound.
My chilliness was quickly suppressed: in terms of sound, composition and singing style, it appears that 'Red In Tooth And Claw’ is full-blown Madder Mortem. That means as much as a very warm, organic and almost ‘non-metal’-like sound (more than ever, in fact), songs disperse to all musical sides (jazzy melodies over heavy riffs and dark doom passages to dissonant madness) and a singer who claims all auditory flexibility of the listener. No, Agnete is not a pleaser. I read somewhere that someone named her Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) with a nervous breakdown, and I think that’s quite adequate. She throws her heart and soul into the music. That does not mean she is honey for the delicate ears, but she’s confronting passionate and intensely compelling. Just listen to her sharp outbursts at the lovely derailed end of the furthermore relatively traditionally built 'Fallow Season’, where she’s accompanied by the second (scream) voice of guitarist (and brother) BP M. Kirkevaag. That’s the way how I love to hear my metal. Raw, unpolished, abrasive and crackling with emotions. No flattened wall of sound, clinical triggers or convertible riff-o-rama, the new diseases so much metal is infected by, but with depth, warmth and imperfect sincerity. It’s metal that lives and breathes. In particular, the aforementioned 'Blood On The Sand' and the sublime, majestic, epic, majestic (how many adjectives do you want?) closer 'Underdogs', where Agnete sings the proverbial stars from the sky, are new highlights in the oeuvre the band. This is Maddest Mortem in extremis.
It's not just metal with passion, it is also metal with brains, since Agnete's lyrics seem to refer to and/or inspired by authors (Margaret Atwood, Terry Pratchett, John Ajvide Lindqvist), poets (WH Auden, WB Yeats, TS Eliot) and musicians (Lemmy Kilmister, Ozzy, AC / DC and even Bruce Springsteen). Madder Mortem reminds me of a quote from writer Victor Hugo: "Music is noise that thinks.” So, there are for the metal nerds enough textual adventures in the booklet. Female fronted highbrow avant-doom: isn’t that a forced description to make you vomit or what? If not, then this is your ideal band. Basic necessities for people who get very happy - and emotional - by bands like Opeth and Leprous, but get even happier from bands like Universe217 Lili Refrain, Djerv and Fear Of God.