Review: Martyrdöd

Perhaps no event has been so eagerly awaited here in the bunker as the arrival of the Paranoia, the new disc from those masters of Swedish d-beat, Martyrdöd. Those in that microset of humanity who actually read this blog with regularity will know that there is an obsession with Martyrdöd among the editorial staff here that really borders on the pathological. Imagine, then, the paroxysms of joy that arose when this disc found its way through the mail slot.

Having said all that, there was also a sort of trepidation at its arrival. This stemmed from the fact that Sekt, the band’s previous outing, had not quite lived up to the standard set by its predecessor. This is, in a certain sense, hardly a very trenchant criticism. In Extremis (2005) was a watershed moment in the history of Swedish d-beat. A new standard had been set. It was almost inevitable that whatever followed it was going to be something of a letdown.

Perhaps the difference between the two discs can be described as follows. The brilliance of In Extremis was that the way that it combined melody with extremes of downtuning. By my calculations, the guitars on In Extremis were tuned down to B (either that or they were using some sort of drop tuning but you get my point). As numerous bands have heretofore discovered, tuning down that far runs the risk of turning the music into indecipherable mush. Although the guitars on In Extremis could be a bit indistinct, they created a dark maelstrom over which the second guitar then spiraled compelling minor key melodies. These seemed to emerge out of a churning fog of d-beat thrash. Added to this was the fact that the melodies themselves often comprised six measures, rather than four, and the extra time that they took to resolve added a compelling tension to the music.

On Sekt, released four years later, many of the same features were in evidence. It seemed, however, that they were trying to move forward stylistically. Part of my problem with Sekt, from a personal perspective, was that I just didn’t like the riffs as much. That is a purely subjective assessment. From a more objective perspective, there was it was clear that the song structures were somewhat different than they had been on In Extremis. “En Demon” is a good example of this. The first thing that one notices is that the beat is a straight thrash tempo rather than the sort of the bracketed beat typical of d-beat drumming. The dark guitars churn away in their accustomed fashion, and after a while one hears one of Martyrdöd’s typical dark melodies. However, it is a more typical four bar melody and it disintegrates relatively quickly into a more straight ahead rock lead.

This is just one example, and there are many others that could be adduced. The point is not that Sekt is a bad record. Rather, it had the misfortune of having been released after a great record. If it had followed Martyrdöd’s self-titled first album, it might have looked a bit better. But it wasn’t, and it is what it is (or it was what it was). In any case, how then does Paranoia stack up?

Quite well as a matter of fact. Martyrdöd has managed to advance stylistically, while still retaining the features that made them great in the first place. There is a much more pronounced metallic influence in terms of style and production on Paranoia than on previous releases, but not the extent that it effaces the underlying hardcore impulse. The guitars are still tuned way down, but there is a crispness to the production not in evidence on earlier releases. The melodic overlays on Paranoia are far superior to those found on its predecessor, and rather than swelling out of a dark cloud, they now sit majestically atop precise and crushing riffage. The other elements that lifted Martyrdöd above the run of d-beat acts are strongly represented; from the jackhammer drumming to the singer who sounds like he’s shouting last words before his execution.

Verily, this is a record whose strains will be echoing around the hallways of the bunker for many weeks to come. It’s always really nice to hear a great band explore something new within a style that they have mastered. Martyrdöd have (once again) thrown down the gage to the d-beat bands thrashing in the ruins of the world? Who, then, will take it up?

Magadh

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