Montana’s Martriden carries on the Scandinavian melodic-death and black-metal traditions on its debut full-length, The Unsettling Dark. It’s the kind of album that suggests that topography is destiny -- the lunar expanses and jutting mountain ranges of the Treasure State aren’t so far removed from Scandinavia’s frigid lowlands and alpine terrain -- but The Unsettling Dark goes far beyond hero worship. Martriden chews up its Viking influences, ingests only the best bits, and spits out a blackened death-metal album to remember.
Bolstered by a huge production job by Dave Otero (Cephalic Carnage), the bulk of The Unsettling Dark impregnates the keyboard-laced melodic death of Dark Tranquillity with brainier, brawnier riffing. “The Calling” and “Processional for the Hellfire Chariot” surge with dual guitars that chug, pummel, retreat, and then take off into slanty lead filigree. Aside from short detours into blastbeat and thrash-polka territory, Martriden’s bulletproof double-kick drum action stays welded to whatever groove the guitars happen to be peddling. Vocalist Michael Cook splits the difference between the standard-issue death-metal growl and black-metal rasp, resulting in an appealing and intelligible roar.
Martriden’s greatest strength is the impeccable craft of its arrangements. The sculpted riff topiary of “Ascension Part 1” (which features a killer solo from itinerant death-metal-cameo guitarist James Murphy) places it in league with some of Dimmu Borgir’s more opulent constructions; keyboard parts flesh out harmonies and build mood without once diluting the complexity. Perhaps the most powerful moment on the disc is “Prelude,” which effectively refashions a Rachmaninoff piano piece into an unrestrained metallic hellstorm. It’s no wonder that black-metal legends Emperor, themselves masters of arrangement and classical/metal fusion, hand-picked Martriden as openers for a U.S. tour in 2007.
Martriden excels at blasting death metal, but ferocity is just one weapon in its arsenal. Acoustic instruments beautify “Ascension Part 2” and the graceful, Opeth-like finale to “A Season in Hell,” offering merciful rest stops from all the surrounding fury. Could these un-metal parts be signposts for future directions? No matter where Martriden goes, this much we know: These early-twenty-year-olds have already written an album to rival the best Scandinavian-style metal.
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