The slow and steady rise to top of the modern kängpunk heap hasn’t managed to fundamentally change the fast-holding focus of big city Swedish metallic crust punk band Martyrdöd. Any band who’d manage to make a career out of a well-trodden brand of punk rock like d-beat deserves a thousand accolades for doing that which truly looks (and sounds) easier than it is. To iterate upon the generations of Discharge and Anti-Cimex clones since early 80’s is among the laziest and bravest undertakings in punk rock depending who you talk to and there’d be few widely memorable acts to spring up with any influence over the years. Metal heads of the early 2000’s would surely know a band like Skitsystem for their relation to famous Swedish death metal groups like At The Gates but and it’d be a rare streak in Hell to find those sort of folks extending themselves into the greater pool of European hardcore. A powerful shifting tide came with the post-His Hero is Gone project Tragedy as their conjuration of neocrust became an unofficial and somewhat mind-blowing ripple across the underground. The dry clip of Totalitär, the curative melodic aggress of Tragedy and the bold punch of early (pre-1996) Disfear might all sound like three kinds of the same mush in a bowl on paper but, that mush is more or less the alchemical lifeblood of Martyrdöd and their core appeal as a rising name in European hardcore. On the quintet’s fourth album it’d seem the winds of change haven’t held them entirely steady so for ‘Hexhammaren’ they’ve banded together and gone with their gut instincts in writing an uncomplicated and lightly nuanced record that is unmistakably Martyrdöd.
I’d more or less tossed and turned a bit in figuring how reasonable it would be to point towards the shifting sands that’d weigh different orders from album to album within Martyrdöd‘s space. Is there any major value in revisiting the complete past of a group like this and potentially wearing out the listener with seven records that are essentially same-minded? It’d be blithering to not at least acknowledge the breakthroughs as they happened. After the very average but satiating introduction of ‘Martyrdöd’ in 2003 there was a clear need to storm out of the gates with ‘In Extremis’ (2005) and this was perhaps their first big success in terms of finding a distinct approach beyond a style that wasn’t entirely their own yet. ‘Sekt’ (2009) was a beast born from pain, a dark and ethereal grind towards a personal execution. It was clear at that point that Martyrdöd had an ‘it’ factor, a visionary sense that pushed outside of itself and at that point it’d appear to have come from some of their more major line-up changes after the second album. As far as I can gather all of the ex-Accursed members had left at that point. That first era of the band was clearly formative and they’d just unlocked a floodgate of potential that is ultra-rare among crust punk circles. Engineer and musician Pontus Redig (Miasmal, Agrimonia) was a big part of this change, at least it’d seem so. Blackened hardcore was all the rage after groups like Kvelertak began to rupture uncontrollably towards the mainstream and as Martyrdöd would soon sign into glorious bondage with Southern Lord and enter what is so far their most celebrated era as a band.
‘Paranoia’ (2012) lit the world on fire with its use of melodic lead guitars and it’d be an understatement to say that ‘Elddop’ (2014) (a long with Bombs of Hades‘ ‘Atomic Temples’) was an inferno across the planet that’d set itself at the top of everyone’s “best of the year” lists soon after. They’d been marketed as a blackened crust band and it’d fit if you included the references to melodic death metal as well. This was a point of rapture for many fans, myself included, a peak that would forever seem unconquerable because it was so connective, so transcendent of expectations and a generally brilliant full listen. ‘List’ (2016) was a bit more introspective and less a bleeding open heart, there was more depth there but it took a while to peel back those layers. Without that instant gratification it’d seem some fans would approach it restlessly yet it remains an intensely dark ‘grower’. The expectation heading into the three year break between full-lengths among established fans was something increasingly melodic, considered as the band appeared to be on an admirable emotional bender. But it’d seem they’d bent as far as they could go and Redig would soon leave to focus on his death metal projects. It was surely an end of the band’s second era but they’ve clung to life in flipping bassist Tim Rosenqvist into the second guitar slot and recruiting Daniel Ekeroth (Usurpress, Third Storm, Swedish Death Metal) on bass. In every way possible this newest album ‘Hexhammaren’ resembles the fiery snarl of ‘In Extremis’ but does not lose the anthemic melodic core that drew so many to Martyrdöd within the last decade.
The mood of Martyrdöd‘s recent past is here in droves though the guitar work begins to wander further back behind 2009 and well, feels less metallic because of it. There is a captivating jangle to the lead guitars that will pique the interest of ‘Elddop’ fans but the songs themselves are of a deeper sorrow. Rock guitar solos and rousing battalion attacks give an armful of almost anthemic depression to ‘Hexhammaren’ that feels a bit disconnected and overblown. It’d seem that the arms are flailing out their sonic message but the brain is lost in its cups, poisoned by reality and flattened by horrors and for my own taste this is a redeeming quality. An almost machinated husk snapping out this dryly furious-yet-dejected hardcore punk album adorned with rock and metal guitar strangling. It is in the best traditions of crust punk beyond the essentials and evocative of Scandinavian hardcore in most respects. This all makes good sense because the band are clear that this was an album of earnest flow and self-expression that wasn’t needled over or deeply considered in terms of composition. Hence the improvised rock guitar solos, the pervasive d-beat structures, and the emotionally raw vocal performances. They’d let it all out and leave the dregs for Fredrik Nordström to punch up into salvage as he produced, mixed and engineered the record.
In making their leap to Century Media (outside of North America) Martyrdöd appear uninterested in changing drastically for what is assuredly a better deal that’ll allow them to sing far and wide their own brand of hypnotic crust punk. There is some integrity in that but perhaps not enough entertainment value for folks wanting something bigger and better than the previous three albums. There is as much change and nuance on ‘Hexhammaren’ as exists on each record since 2005 but it’ll be harder to see; Especially if you’d (like me) connected with ‘Elddop’ foremost as this’ll feel familiar throughout Side A. Yes, ‘Hexhammeren’ will feel a bit long-winded as you begin to approach Side B and see six more songs are still on their way but the existentially challenging duo of “Nästa Syrien” and “Cashless Society” end up being the throat-wrenching peak of an increasingly emotional record. Hits of nigh melodic hardcore creep into this second half and it all builds to the very Göteborg metal stomp of “Pharmaception”, a smart late-album highlight that built interest on repeat listening. Could they have clipped this seventh album down to a solid 35 minutes and avoided some of the slight redundancy in the second half? Yes, but I wouldn’t say the record differs from the previous six albums, each of which had at least one track I’d bump to an EP or cut entirely.
Why should Martyrdöd set the world on fire again in 2019 anyhow? We’re all already about to burn alive as the summer heat approaches to charcoal the northern hemisphere and strangle us of oxygen. Instead, take a deep breath of catharsis and introspection with ‘Hexhammaren’ and give yourself to the gloom of its rhythms. I found the full listen above average though I didn’t always appreciate the improvised guitar solos which felt oddly ‘rockish’ considering how written the prior set of record’s leads had been outside of the major points of songwriting. I feel comfortable giving a reasonably high recommendation for ‘Hexhammaren’ though I find it about 4-5 minutes too bloated and extra dreary in terms of mood. For preview I’d suggest “Helveteslarm” as classic Martyrdöd along with the pairing of “Nästa Syrien” and “Pharmaception” for something a bit more ‘out there’ than usual for the band.
Jag gräver min egen grav. 4.0/5.0
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