Review: Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw

Review: Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw

Nov 09

Madder Mortem - Red in Tooth and Claw cover art


Madder Mortem – Red in Tooth and Claw (Doom/Prog; Dark Essence Records)

Released Oct. 28th, 2016


In an odd sort of synergy, the career trajectory of Norwegian progressive metal band Madder Mortem is just as unclassifiable as their music. Starting as a doom-centered musical outfit, the group steadily released a series of albums that grew both in scope and quality, culminating with the absolutely fantastic Eight Ways in 2009. The album, while critically acclaimed and earning a healthy attention within a niche sphere, didn’t seem to take off quite the way many thought it deserved. If you’re being generous you could say this is due to the band being a few years ahead of their time, as the modern boon of progressive metal really only got a strong foot in the door a few years later around 2010. Given their penchant for dynamic non-standard song structures, solid musicianship that never self-aggrandized, and one of the most powerfully unique and evocative vocalists in any heavy genre, it would be easy to see the band gain at least half as much of an international foothold as fellow countrymen Leprous, or the critical acceptance of Soen, but label woes and roster changes conspired to temporarily deflate the momentum from their wings during their hard-earned ascent. Thankfully the band, led by main songwriter BP M. Kirkevaag and vocalist Agnete Kirkevaag never stopped toiling at their craft during this downtime and the too-long delayed new album, Red in Tooth and Claw is finally seeing the light of day. It may not push the envelope of their sound any further than what they have already explored, but it is nonetheless a solid and affirmative addition to the band’s catalog.

If one thing is certain, this is a definitively Madder Mortem album. From the first verse and chorus of opener ‘Blood on the Sand’ all the hallmarks are present; thick low-tuned guitars, drumming that swings effortlessly between steady backbone and busy accents, strong bass, and of course the unique vocals that can be lullaby sweet one moment and legion commandingly powerful the next. As on every MM release, Agnete’s vocals are the centerpiece driving each song forward. Her talent lies both in an overwhelmingly powerful delivery, and a uniquely evocative approach to range and phrasing. The music itself, especially in the heavier moments, is very rhythmically minded, leaving Agnete to carry the melody most of the time, something she excels at not only by strength of vocal cords but by a very imaginative sense of direction and dynamics.


As mentioned, MM is a band not easily categorized; their sound is at times heavy and djenty by way of Meshuga and at others quaint and eerie like a twisted nursery rhyme. ‘Fallow Season’ has a strong swagger that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pain record, and almost even sounds too catchy to belong on an album like this, but Madder completely makes the riff their own, creating an infectious groove that doesn’t feel thin or cheap. ‘All the Giants Are Dead’ is much more downtempo type of song, in line with their doomier roots. And ‘The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs’ is a deceptively lighter number, swaying to a darkly whimsical lullaby cadence. This rich but tastefully-executed mixing of doom, prog, and straight rock is the formula that makes the band’s music so interesting.

For as good as a job as the album does introducing itself in the first half, the back-end does feel like it loses some steam. Mostly this is due to many tracks in the later half being the sloggier, more laconic and lethargic ones. This isn’t too say they’re bad songs, they just lack either the immediacy of tracks like ‘Fallow Season’ or the engaging build of something like ‘If I Could’. Seeing as though they don’t come off as filler, perhaps it is just a matter of tracklist sequencing more than anything. Also, the album does not seem to push as far forward as each other release has from their predecessors; Eight Ways was a masterful culmination of what the group had been developing since their inception, and this new platter does little to push the boundaries any further, if at all. Red is still a strong outing however; while the first half is more engaging, the album spun as a whole is a solid listening experience and even if there’s little new territory covered, a ‘treading water’ album from a band as engrossing and unique as Madder Mortem is one worth listening to. Hopefully with this seven year lull out of the way it won’t be as long of a wait until the next platter of heavy, quirky music from these Norwegians.

Conclusion: Red In Tooth And Claw is a solid and engaging addition to the catalog of one of progressive metal’s most criminally unheralded bands.


Madder Mortem




Dark Essence Records