Evil Dr. Smith : I was disappointed. As far as I know, I am the only one of the Lords Of Metal crew that has a Madder Mortem crush (well, those others just do not understand true and meaningful love), but this new album 'Marrow', released pretty smoothly within two years after 'Red In Tooth And Claw', did not do me that much after the first spins. Where are the splitting riffs, why don’t I get goose bumps, what happened to the ear-splitting air-raid sirens of Agnete M. Kirkevaag? Goddamn it, this sucks big time, because if there is one band where I waste too much time on endless reviews, then it’s about these Norwegian avant-metallists. On the other hand, it’s their seventh album already, and there are few bands that can sound urgent and creative after so many albums.
There was one lucky thing: because I ignored the countless curses, threats and written abuses from this ezine's chef about the expiration of the deadline, the album kept on spinning. And yes, it turns out again that this had justified the clichéd combination of 1) the power of repetition and 2) a record that grows on you.
While the voice of Agnete and the production of their previous album were a matter of taste, on this album that's no longer the case. The recording sounds less raw, but richer, more layered and warmer. And Agnete in particular appears to have delivered her best performance in her twenty-year career. An observation that I did not dare to suspect at first. Although she sounds less idiosyncratic and recalcitrant, it seems as if she has finally found her perfect singing form: with all serenity and control she knows how to sound warm and controlled even in the powerful outbursts. Less uncontrolled and raw, and even though I found her singing style a breath of fresh air and light among all those interchangeable sounding metal singers, what she performs on this album is lofty above all taste and preference. As if she sings like a jazz singer á la Peggy Lee on a metal album. The warmth, the freedom, the space she creates with her unctuous vocals give me the bumps on my arms I needed, especially when the complex, meandering structure of the album slowly unfolds. No instant blockbuster, but slowly creeping music-constructions that nest in your soul.
But mind you, this is still one hundred per cent metal, do not be mistaken! Just listen to the fat doomy metalcore blisters in 'My Will Be Done' that transcends the bulk of doom and metalcore bands due to the splitting, dissonant guitar riffs and the more inventive sounding drum parts. Suddenly, Mike Patton appears as a whispering Mr. Bungle in the title track. Or ... is it not him? It’s probably guitarist (and Agnete's brother) BP M. Kirkevaag, who also gives the album an extra aggressive touch with his harsh backing vocals on several tracks. Like in the imposing closing track ‘Waiting To Fall', which actually summarizes the entire album in nine overwhelming minutes. An album that is full of extremely atmospheric songs that blends dreamy jazz prog, blunt metal and doomy thrashriffs in an ominous, diffuse atmosphere, through which Agnete confidently takes the whole thing to an impressive high level. After three spins, I thought of "a flat and not very impressive album", after ten listens (and more) the conclusion is "this is perhaps the most inventive, layered and atmospheric album in their career". Take your time to digest this album and your patience will be rewarded with an album that will cherish you for a long time.
Weak points? I am not really impressed with the album cover. The video clip does impress. For this, they hired one of the best animators/illustrators of this millennium: Costin Chioreanu. If it was up to me he could have redone the cover of Thore Hansen. It was a great idea they managed to let him do the artwork, because Thore is a semi-legendary illustrator for children's books (!) in Norway (I suspect it's a long-cherished wish of the band hiring him for an original illustration), but still... sorry Thore!