The Unsettling Dark
posted on 3/2008 By:
A wise man once said “It’s such a fine line, between stupid and clever.” Well, perhaps David St. Hubbins wasn’t such a wise man, nor was he actually talking about extreme metal, but I feel the sentiment applies anyhow. So much metal isn’t differentiated by its approach but rather by its execution; most often it matters less what a band does so much as how they go about doing it. Such is the case with Martriden. Hailing from the appropriately mountainous and frostbitten climes of, um, Montana, this young act pedals an extremely Scandinavian brand of blackened death metal that features no innovations or idiosyncrasies to speak of. Nonetheless, The Unsettling Dark is a roundly entertaining chunk o’ heaviness by virtue of sheer stylistic mastery.
To their credit, Martriden don’t ape a single band’s schtick—instead, they cull pretty evenly from the likes of Belphegor, Zyklon, and of course, Behemoth. All the expected black/death facets put in appearances on The Unsettling Dark—you’ve got your sharp hi-fi production, churning deathy grooves, occasional keyboards, flensing black metal melodies, mid-range rasps, epic pretensions, et cetera. On the surface, there’s not a whole lot to separate Martriden from their many, many less distinguished peers (A Gruesome Find for example, who I admittedly panned for their own dearth of originality).
So what makes The Unsettling Dark so fun? It’s tough to say, really. I’d like to be able to point to some unusual feature that sets them apart from the masses, but in the end, it comes down to something less highbrow and more visceral: they just fuckin’ do it right. At first Martriden didn’t really have me convinced, as opener “The Enigma of Fate” and follow-up “The Calling” are relatively faceless exercises in stuttering, mechanized grooves and eerie backing keyboards. But then, out of nowhere, the boys from the Treasure State step it up four or five notches. “Ascension Part 1” isn’t superficially too different from its predecessors (aside from a well-placed guest solo from death metal journeyman James Murphy), but everything seems to suddenly fall into place—the riffs are nasty, the vocals drip venom, and the melodies tunnel right into your brain like a tapeworm into a stomach lining and hang out there for days on end. Then comes “Ascension Part 2,” squarely sealing the deal. It’s just a requisite ‘epic instrumental number,’ complete with a delicate acoustic intro and soulful leads, but holy fuck if that closing chord progression didn’t have me jumping up from the dinner table, butter knife in hand, in search of a barbarian horde to die honorably in battle with. The rest of The Unsettling Dark continues in this vein—nothing new, but just so perfectly planned and played that its musical safety doesn’t much matter.
It’s easy to see why black metal giants Emperor picked such a young band as their opener last year. Martriden wear their influences on their sleeve—and certainly wouldn’t ever blow one of said influences off the stage—but do it so endearingly that it’s hard not to cheer’em on anyway. Let this be a lesson to up-and-coming metal acts: there’s nothing wrong with doing something that’s been done, but when you do it, be sure you come down on the right side of that fine, fine line. Martriden certainly have.
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