Madder Mortem – Old Eyes, New Heart


Madder Mortem. It’s been nearly six years since the release of their last album in 2018, and now the Norwegian progressive metal quintet are back with a new treat for the eardrums in the shape of their eighth offering, Old Eyes, New Heart. As a band, their sound is difficult to pigeonhole into a specific genre, with their various albums dipping in and out of assorted styles.

Their debut record, Mercury (1999) is a dreamy gothic metal affair, with flavours of Skyclad and a smattering of Xmal Deutschland. Most of the band left after this album, leaving only lead singer Agnete M. Kirkevaag and guitarist/synth player, BP M. Kirkevaag. One new lineup later and the band’s sophomore offering, All Flesh is Grass (2001), showed that they still had plenty to offer, opening with a thundering bass line and a sharper edge to the lyrics. This harder sound would be carried over into the third album, Deadlands (2002). The band spread their musical wings here. This offering is a tantalizing hint of what the band would become, with standout hard metal tracks such as ‘Necropol Lit’ and the bombastic, ‘Resonatine’.

The band wouldn’t return until 2006 with the brilliant Desiderata,which took the previous two albums and then turned everything up that bit harder and that bit faster as they veered into territory occupied by the likes of Lacuna Coil and HIM. Eight Ways followed in 2009 and this time the band dipped into multiple genres in a single album, veering from jazz to folk to doom and back again. Red in Tooth and Claw (2016) and Marrow (2018) continued this trend of keeping the listener guessing about what the next track might bring, with Marrow leaning more heavily (no pun intended) into the doomier end of things.

Now we have Old Eyes, New Heart, and it is a softer offering than the band has produced in a while, swerving easily from goth to alternative to power metal and back again, blending soft ballads with pleasing anthems. The album opens strong with ‘Coming from the Dark’, which leans into the operatic side of metal, with Agnete’s vocals soaring over the thumping drums and shrill guitar tones. By contrast, track two, ‘On Guard’, is a slower, bluesy offering that begs comparison to 1990’s goth darlings, Concrete Blonde. Nothing could be further from the next track, ‘Master Tongue’, which opens with a tortured scream of vocals and meaty slam of guitars that will have headphone users reaching for the volume control before metamorphosing into something close to surf-rock. The chunky bass notes and sudden key change lend it an almost nu-metal feel.

But the likes of ‘Unity’ and ‘Things I’ll Never Do’ are the real standouts of this offering, blending fast paced drums, layered vocals and a dash of synths in the former, while straight-forward, hard driving rhythms marry with a chugging guitar line. Here, Agnete’s operatic voice and the snarling backing vocals of BP create something truly hair-raising and beautiful.

While this LP isn’t as immediately compelling as previous efforts such as Desiderata, it is one that benefits from repeated plays and contains some truly remarkable tracks. Old Eyes, New Heart is proof that Madder Mortem haven’t missed a beat in the years since their last release. They deserve to command more attention than they receive.

Shaun Rockwood


Verdict


Release Date: 26/01/2024

Record Label: Dark Essence Records

Standout tracks: The Head that Wears the Crown, Unity, Things I’ll Never Do

Suggested Further Listening: Thy Catafalque – Naiv (2020), Skyclad – The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1991), Lacuna Coil – Karmacode (2006)