I wrote somewhere, maybe here, that I always get nervous when I hear that Martyrdöd are about to release a record. I can still remember when I first heard their classic In Extremis (2005), a record which rocked me as hard as any crust record ever had. Ever since then I’ve been sort of waiting for them to drop off in quality.
Sekt, released four years later, was good, but kind of didn’t live up to the earlier release. Paranoia was better, but suffered from a bit of indistinctness that often happens to a band that are tuned way down. Still, “Tragisk Zeitgeist” was a cut whose rage and power would not have been out of place on In Extremis. Elddop was great. List was better, especially the video for “Harmageddon,” with its footage of heroic Kurdish Women’s Protection Units ( YPJ ) fighters. Long story short: the bar for this band could hardly be higher.
Hexhammeren opens with the title cut, a chugging, heal-damped jackhammer that gallops headlong into the darkness. The slightly more metallic picking style gives the music a different texture, swirling darkly underneath Martyrdöd’s signature melodic overlays. The second track, “Rännilar” (which I think means “rivulets” or something like that) gets back to the more mainline version of the band’s sound. But it is a pummelling track nonetheless, featuring yet another spiralling melodic line.
Since In Extremis, Martyrdöd has made their stock in trade the expression of the anger and sorrow of the world. That record was a barely contained explosion of rage and pain that seemed at all points ready to break the bounds of the recorded medium and to become manifest in the world, anguished and self-aware. Over successive releases, they have polished and refined their sound, but have never lost the edge of furious urgency of their early discs.
Something they’ve added to their repertoire since the release of List three years ago has been video accompaniment. The video for “Harmagedon” featured a perfect opening shot, juxtaposing footage of the band playing with clips of the YPJ fighting ISIS.
This was particularly effective, not only demonstrating an interest in, and commitment to, actual struggles for justice, but also emphasizing the role of women in the ongoing fight. The band themselves looked on the edge of desperation. Jens Bäckelin attacks his drum kit like a guy administering a beatdown to someone he hates from the old neighbourhood.
The new disc is accompanied by videos for “Helveteslarm” and “Pharmacepticon”. The former is good and has a slightly lighter tone than some of their other material. The latter gets back on model, showing dark and unsettling images over a chunky, mid-tempo cut with a melancholic melody, the sum total of which is quite unsettling.
The material on Hexhammeren constitutes a powerful reaffirmation of the validity of Martyrdöd’s approach. Songs like “Bait and Switch,” “Cashless Society,” and “Den Sista Striden” emerge like explosions of black flame, dripping with overdrive and raw emotion. Martyrdöd’s music is, in a sense, an aphotic apotheosis of crust as a genre, standing as a challenge to every other band to find new ways of fusing darkness and melody. Hexhammeren simply restates this challenge with the accustomed power and clarity.
Since their last record, Martyrdöd had a bit of a lineup change, with Pontus Redig leaving and Tim Rosenqvist moving from bass to guitar. Filling his spot on bass is Daniel Ekeroth, formerly of Dellamorte and a bunch of other bands (and author of the definitive book on the early years of the Swedish death metal scene). So no worries there. If there’s anyone who knows how this music is supposed to sound, or how the bass fits into a band tuned down to somewhere around the key of C, it’s Ekeroth. If I hadn’t known this in advance, I wouldn’t have noticed the difference.
Maybe it’s something in the water. Or maybe they’re just all really depressed. For whatever reason, Sweden seems capable of producing a seemingly endless stream of devastating crust acts and has been since the early 1980s. One can easily name a dozen such Scandinavian bands without thinking too hard, from Anti-Cimex and Crudes SS to Wolfpack and Skit System, and on to Myteri and Misantropic and myriad other groups churning out music that reflects the dark structures of life. Among these, Martyrdöd leads the charge, consistently delivering dark and punishing evidence of global decay.
The world is indeed going down the shitter. That is not news. But it is at least some comfort to be found in the capacity of bands like Martyrdöd to translate our sorrows into forceful mixtures of light and darkness that have the power to block out the anguish of the crisis. At least for a moment.
Photograph courtesy of Martyrdöd. All rights reserved.