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Madder Mortem - "Eight Ways" (CD)

Madder Mortem - "Eight Ways" CD cover image

"Eight Ways" track listing:

1. Formaldehyde (5:26)
2. The Little Things (5:02)
3. Armour (5:04)
4. Resolution (6:30)
5. A Different Kind Of Hell (5:21)
6. Riddle Wants To Be (4:11)
7. Where Dream And Day Collide (5:53)
8. The Flesh, The Blood And The Man (4:37)
9. Get That Monster Out Of Here (5:43)
10. Life, Lust & Liberty (4:19)
11. All I Know (3:56)
12. The Eighth Wave (9:14)

Reviewed by on August 28, 2009

"Their fifth studio album, 'Eight Ways,' is the type of album that takes a few listens to sink in, but once it does, the result is one of deep satisfaction."

Over the years, female-fronted metal bands have grown in popularity. Bands like Nightwish and Arch Enemy have turned over narrow-minded fans who feel that metal is solely a man’s game. While there is a fair share of notable bands with female singers, there are at least triple the number of groups that lie out of the limelight, amassing a loyal following, but don't receive much mainstream attention. Norway’s Madder Mortem is one of these bands, a quintet that has spent over a decade releasing a consistent stream of new material to little fanfare. Their fifth studio album, “Eight Ways,” is the type of album that takes a few listens to sink in, but once it does, the result is one of deep satisfaction.

Narrowing Madder Mortem’s sound to one specific genre is a difficult task; one that will yield different response depending on the listener. Some may think progressive metal; others will decide on gothic or dark metal; even more will raise their arms in frustration and give up. The best way to describe the band is a dark gothic jazz, with a helping of atmospheric progressiveness. It's not exactly the easiest thing to say in one breath, but adapting a label to Madder Mortem is quite the challenge.

This makes “Eight Ways” a tough album to fully grasp the first time around. The band has a tendency to jam a lot of content into one song, and with the average song length being over five-minutes, the first listen may not sink in all the sharp turns taken with the songwriting. The transition from smooth jazz to harsh guitar tones and screaming vocals may prove to be jarring in the beginning, but as time goes on, everything starts to click and the album begins to make sense, piece by piece, minute by minute.

That isn’t to say that every track is a complex machine that needs hours of your time to fully understand. A few of the songs hit a nerve immediately upon impact, including the Deftones vibe of “Armour,” the explosive power metal of “Life, Lust & Liberty,” and the sultry bluesy nightclub feel of “Where Dream And Day Collide.” The twelve tracks all have something to say, each complete with its own unique mood and atmosphere. Madder Mortem could have stumbled with this approach, but stays afloat with the help of a strong support system that keeps the listener from hitting the stop button.

Vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag has a lot to do with this. Her range is astounding; from soft whispers to silky falsettos to aggressive yells, she covers a wide spectrum of vocal styles. Kirkevaag is more than capable of holding her own, keeping the listener engaged with “Eight Ways” the whole way through. While her screams are her weak point, making heavier affairs like “A Different Kind Of Hell” and “Formaldehyde” descend into awkward territory at times, they aren’t god-awful to a point where it becomes unbearable.

Madder Mortem tries their hand at a few longer songs, to mixed results. While the six-plus minute “Resolution” is average at best, getting by on Kirkevaag’s vocals alone, the epic closer “The Eighth Wave” is a lackluster ending to "Eight Ways," with a dull sound and riffs played to the point of overkill. The band is comprised of talented musicians who can properly play their instruments, but with a lack of lead guitar work and any technical wizardry, the band doesn’t handle a song near the nine-minute area well. While past attempts at longer songs have mostly been solid, “The Eighth Wave” misses the mark.

One’s enjoyment of “Eight Ways” depends on how much time a listener puts into the album. Sure, there are those that will “get” it on the first time around, but most will have to contend with all the different styles blending together before being able to properly focus on the subtle details. “Eight Ways” has its share of flaws, but patient metal heads who enjoy thinking outside the box will find Madder Mortem’s latest to be an eccentric clash of genres and musical concepts.

Highs: Agnete M. Kirkevaag's wide vocal range, mix of aggressive metal and jazz, infectious choruses.

Lows: Will take mulitple listens to fully grasp, the longer songs tend to drag excessively.

Bottom line: A challenging, yet rewarding, album that isn't for those expecting something quick and easy to digest.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)