Wearing A Martyr's Crown
posted on 6/2009 By:
Don't ask me why I had a good feeling about this one. I just did. For absolutely no reason. And having spent this last week with it, it can be said that Nightrage's forever-revolving, revolving door works in mysterious ways, and also that you can't always go with your gut.
But man, oh man! Cramming four albums of this pomp and frill down my throat gives me a stomach ache! Truth be told, it takes a sweet tooth for me to get through an entire Nightrage album. Does it not sometimes feel like Trad-Swede-Melo-Death for the sole purpose of showcasing whoever decides to park in Nightrage's guitar-king spot (Gus G., Constantine)? Or a platform for iconic vocalists (Mr. Lindberg, Mr. Englund)? But seriously, this Rage has always been a reliable source for these things, if a little predictable. But I for one, take melodic fury for melodic fury's sake; I'm not prog-geekily nitpicking at Martyr's Crown from a high-chair. I love this (as has often been referred to) "dead genre".
First of all, I have no badge to flash and I'm not the authorized biographer for all things Nightrage. I'm simply one who has enjoyed, in moderation, every single one of their releases thus far. I can say that I feel I'm more a voice of the minority in that I've never been fully convinced that they were the sum of their parts. Their first outing, Sweet Vengeance, was hailed as a holy grail of sorts. I just found it to be entertaining as hell, but not the leader of the free world. Their second outing, Descent Into Chaos, was hailed as the near-second coming of their first. Eh. And their third swing at bat with almost an entirely different team, A New Disease Is Born, was mostly shit on because it didn't retain the coarseness of it's predecessors, or it "lost focus", so they say. But I didn't see the sin in not making a third album that mirrored the stadium-ready Gothen-stomp of the first two, and I heard A New Disease as a slick, yet deadly blessing. It held a nice balance from delicate to decadent, not to mention catchy like the swine, and all of this was owed to the punctuated relationship with those specific players that, surprise, are no longer part of the N'Rage family. In particular, that singer's ability to shoot to the skies from the depths of hell impressed me.
Well, one of the first things that you learn to do here in this outRageous land is to cut the cord. Don't try to make friends around here. They don't last long. However, if you've been paying attention, there is always a last man standing, and that last man is the one dude that always looks a little bit different than the others, but looks the same every time. Meet Marios Iliopoulos, in a mane of black, the furious Greek-by-way-of-Sweden; guitarist and birth father to this mess. He has rebuilt this band every couple of years for the last seven. What a patient man, and what a fierce entrance exam he must hand out on the steps to Nightrage headquarters. He's definitely got a gift for heading up a draft as Martyr's Crown clearly shows. Just check his love for the twin-guitar harmonies that spread out across this entire album and keep it alive, or affection for extra-curricular activities like the flamenco-inspired acoustic passage at the tail-end of "Collision Of Fate". It's as plain as day how vicious this new Night can be, and new guitarist, Olof Mörck (Dragonland), is half of this battle. Now, if only every cylinder was firing from every nook and cranny, the world would be screaming "Sweet Revenge!" once again, but the shortcomings lie in really important departments, like every department that doesn't have strings on it.
First and foremost, the writing is pretty stock 'n standard. Almost as if throwaways from the adored Sweet Vengeance have been collected and redistributed here. If that's enough to get you excited, then hey, you could do alot worse than these eleven tunes, but I'm hearing their tendency to blend and a hard time telling themselves apart, especially when they spend the majority of this album pacing middle ground. Songs like "Futile Tears" and "Mocking Modesty", or even the instrumental closer "Sting Of Remorse" trudge along and never really wake up. However, those of you that live for the fretboard's fluff, there are plenty of moments that will have you at full tilt. For the rest of us, that kinda leaves hope in the arms of blunt-force trauma and the more aggressive cuts here, but unfortunately those only nick the surface. Fiercer, faster songs like "Among Wolves" and "Abandon" feel necessary and anonymous; not quite the crimes of passion that leave a mark. They're not bad, they're just average. The vocals, the rhythm section.... Average. New singer, Antony Hämäläinen, does hark back to a more Lindberg-esque way of going about things, if less-charismatic, and I definitely miss the attack of Jensen (The Haunted), Giannakopoulos (Septicflesh), or Svenningson with sticks; newbie, Johan Nunez, is the more subdued of the bunch. All in all, there's something viral missing from this collection of songs; it's kinda sterile, and at times I wanted to throw it down in the dirt and rough it up. There's a couple of infectious moments here, be it the tightly wound "A Grim Struggle" or the disregard for protocol in "Shed The Blood", that should have, but just didn't contaminate the rest of the roster.
So in conclusion, Wearing A Martyr's Crown is candy, but not cake. Judging from the consistency of Iliopoulos' work-study program over the course of the years though, you could probably hold your breath and get away with it.
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A New Disease Is Born
Descent Into Chaos