Madder Mortem - Red in Tooth and ClawI was going to begin this review by referring to Madder Mortem as one of Norway’s best kept secrets, but I had no idea if that were true. It’s hard to judge how well-known a metal band is outside of one’s own group of heavy metal compadres, which is probably why I’m so often surprised by the billing of certain acts at certain German festivals (Feuerschwanz, anyone?). Therefore, I had a quick gander at Google Trends collected some hard data so that I could cherry pick a result that fit my prior assumptions back up my assertion about the Madders‘ relative obscurity. Lo and behold, Madder Mortem‘s search popularity was lower than every band I thought to compare them against. They’ve been searched-for at a consistently similar rate to Mörk Gryning for the past few years, and Mörk Gryning haven’t even existed since 20051. This trend is puzzling, because the Madders‘ music is magical, but a patchy release schedule may be partly to blame: their last output, EP Where Dream and Day Collide, appeared way back in 2010. However, early evidence indicates that Red in Tooth and Claw may just be the album to lift Madder Mortem out of obscurity, with the Google Trendometer showing a significant spike of interest over the past month.

I hope this trend continues, because this record’s a peach. Ever since dramatically shifting gears for their second album All Flesh Is Grass, Agnete and co. have produced some of the most original, diverse, and well-written progressive metal in the business, and Red in Tooth and Claw is no exception. Madder Mortem‘s style is not easy to describe succinctly; switching effortlessly from crushing grooves to uncomfortable dissonance to quiet contemplation or soaring beauty, they are experts at manipulating your emotions with their skillful song-craft. The one-two punch of “Blood on the Sand” and “If I Could” that open the record showcase the Madders at their emotive peak, with off-kilter timing and uncomfortable harmonies building towards dramatic releases of tension. Though each runs for over five minutes, the shimmering guitars and arpeggiated bass-lines create a continuous sense of motion meaning that neither seems too long.

The remaining tracks are equally powerful. Each is gifted with a distinctive personality, from the danceable groove of “Fallow Season” to the heavy, creeping riffs and Devin Townsend-isms of “Pitfalls” and “Stone for Eyes” to the subtle bossa nova rhythm in “Returning to the End of the Free World” to the dreamy lullaby that is “The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs.” This breadth of ideas could easily lead to a garbled mess, but Madder Mortem consistently fashion them into well-crafted songs. Their distinctive riffing style is a factor here, as is Agnete Kirkevaag’s incredible voice. Agnete is one of the most underrated singers in metal: she has fantastic power, tone and range, and her delivery is always spot on. Her vocal lines are invariably inventive, whether she’s soaring over the heavy, angular riffage of “Parasites” or soothing you to sleep in “The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs.”

Madder Mortem 2016

Madder Mortem have always benefited from great production quality, and Red in Tooth and Claw is no exception. Everything is crisp and clear, with the excellent basswork in particular allowed room to shine through. The guitar sound is the thickest they have achieved for a long time, adding weight to the heavy sections but reigning in some of the raw aggression I loved on prior records. Thanks are due to the mastering engineer for not brickwalling this; still, an even wider dynamic range would have given some of the longer builds and transitions an even greater impact. My only other minor quibble is the lack of progression from previous releases. Though they’ve honed their writing over time, their style has remained relatively static since 2002’s Deadlands. Their music is so varied and their songs so good that this is barely an issue compared to most other bands, but despite loving this album, it never really surprised me. I want surprises from my prog.

Red in Tooth and Claw is a fantastic return after their six year pause. Those in the know will already have snapped this baby up, but if you are new to the band, it should go straight to the top of your shopping list. Madder Mortem have the potential to appeal to fans of anyone from Muse to Meshuggah, and if there is any justice in the world, Red in Tooth and Claw will see them take their rightful seat at the table of prog-metal royalty.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Essence Records
Websites: maddermortem.com/ | facebook.com/mmortem
Releases Worldwide: October 28th, 2016

Show 1 footnote

  1. Though I just checked on the archives and apparently they’ve reformed, excite!!!

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  • mtlman1990

    When did Rosanne join a band?

    • ArtifeX

      I’m surprised this comment hasn’t more votes XD the comparison is quite accurate.

  • CongregationofFoxes

    This album is really good so far the band members just look like the last thing you would think a metal band to look like

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      They’re dressed completely in black, have beards and long hair… WTF?

      • RuySan

        Maybe he thinks they look more like metal fans than metal musicians. Maybe. I have no idea.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Maybe because they obviously showered before the photo shoot?

  • savafreak

    Agnete M. Kirkevaag’ voice is one of the best in metal, male or female! thankfully not a soprano like most of the female vocalists, mid range highly emotive, she what makes the band distinctive

    • She kicks ass and takes names.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      She as a very clean and powerful voice.

  • Huck N’ Roll

    Excellent review, I like this record a LOT.

  • This is my introduction to the band, and everything I’ve heard from it thus far has me in the general mood of WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME ABOUT THESE GUYS BEFORE.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Now you know about them! Check their song “Necropol Lit”.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    You do realize that your review will cause a spike in popularity for Madder Mortem as well as making them go way up in Google Trends? Because after reading your review millions of AMG readers will look them up in Google and buy their records.

    • basenjibrian

      Guilty as charged. I just went to iTunes,.

  • Diego Molero

    That embedded track was so much fun, really liked it, though something a little weirder would have been even better. Still I have high hopes after hearing the song and definitely will be checking the album.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    It’s great to see Madder Mortem back. I love their “Deadlands” album, they’re a very distinctive band and Agnete is a great singer.

  • GardensTale

    Used to like this band a lot but over time I sort of forgot about them. Time to get reacquainted!

  • Marc Rikmenspoel

    I have two of their earlier albums. I respect them a lot, but I always wished they were less “weird” and more epic. I’ll give this one a listen soon.

  • RuySan

    Once bought Deadlands because it was in the bargain bin, and absolutely loved it. Also saw them opening for Opeth, i think in 2003 and they gave a stellar performance. The fact that the singer was very much pregnant, and gave a very intense performance (what a voice!) made it more memorable.

    They are criminally underrated.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Agreed. Criminally underrated.

  • Kronos

    This sounds like the halfway point between DSO and DsO. I like.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      That would be what and Deathspell Omega?

      • Kronos

        Diablo Swing Orchestra

        • GardensTale

          They should be working on a new one as well. Kind of fearful for it since Ann-Louise left… She was a big part of their sound.

          • Diego Molero

            Well, they are almost done with the new album, I can’t even describe my excitement for that. But is true what you said about Ann Louise, she is a wonderful singer.

    • Name’s Dalton

      Not sure I heard how they get halfway between Deathspell Omega based on this embedded track, but it wasn’t bad regardless.

  • sir_c

    Yet Another Band To Check Out.
    FFS, my list is getting long this month

  • Wilhelm

    Despite having respect for, and enjoying, their modern prog/groove metal releases, the one that sings closest to my musical soul is their debut, Mercury. I would encourage anyone who loves atmospheric doom metal to check that one out, as it’s one of the most beautiful albums that I own. From what I have heard of this one I really like, there are more of those moody moments, while still being their typical angsty style.

  • Vocally, it reminds me of Jess and the Ancient Ones, but it’s very different musically. I like what I’ve heard so far.

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    Nice write up. Fallow Season is great. Hope the rest has the same passion!

  • Alexandros

    I can’t keep up with all the amazing records lately! Anyone please help!!

  • The Unicorn

    This song is spectacular, and her pipes are ferocious!

  • AngryMetalBird

    Awesome band I’ve found through AMG no. 1254…

  • Ein Sophistry

    *Nerd alert* Does Agnete Kirkevaag’s voice remind anyone else of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, singer on many of Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill tunes?

  • Innit Bartender

    They definitely belong there in the Underrated Great Bands Holy Hall.
    I too saw them open for Opeth and for an opening band to catch your attention while you’re waiting for Opeth, it says it all.
    Deadlands has quite gone down in my favourites during these years, while the less-streamlined All Flesh is Grass has gone up. I like that weirdness.
    Still haven’t managed to get the quality time to listen to this, hope I will have the chance soon.

  • Johan

    I’ve been a fan of Madder mortem since All flesh is grass surprised the hell out of me in 2001 and i’m really glad they seem to finally get the attention they deserve with this album. It’s pretty much everything that makes MM great (though I miss that little extra sprinkle of crazy) and Agnete’s voice is impressive as ever. I think she and Floor Jansen probably has the most powerful female voices in metal.

  • Morten

    Indeed one of Norway’s best kept metal secrets. Only the most dedicated metalheads knows of them here in Norway. They deserve so much more. Killer album by the way

  • Maximos662

    Will definitely be getting this, and I’m almost ashamed that I did not know of them until this review was posted. My need for prog went unfulfilled with a certain high-profile January release, but fortunately other genre stalwarts, plus some relative unknowns, have stepped up to fill that void.

  • AgonMcDuck

    “Fallow Season” is so good, I’ve been playing it while bashing through my grad school homework. Need to check the rest out posthaste. :D

    • I actually think it’s the weakest song on the record so yes get on the rest of it post haste!

      • AgonMcDuck

        Impressions after playing the whole album once and then one track a few more times (off their Bandcamp):

        My god, I am spinning “Parasites” on repeat. Don’t get me wrong, I did like what I heard of the other tracks too, and totally get why you think that’s the weakest. One of the simpler, more straightforward ones. But right now I just need something really intense and “Parasites” does it.

        Again, I love this record in general. Like I said it makes “Fallow Season” look weak and you saw how much I liked it. But man oh man. “Parasites” is so much fun. It’s far from an exact comparison but they can fill the hole in my heart Annlouice left when she left Diablo Swing Orchestra. Agnete has some serious pipes.

        So snagging this record. Thanks a bunch!

        • Parasites is amazing – I thought Fallow Season was “weakest” but still awesome, and it’s a nice contrast to some of the more depressing tracks. Glad you like it! m/

  • DrChocolate

    The embedded track snuck up like a damn ninja. I clicked play and was like, “ok, this is .. alright.” Then, almost unknowingly, by the midsection I was bobbing my head. When they started screaming “BLIND!” was when I realized I’d been snookered and was getting my ass handed too me by some damn pros. Then I immediately hit play again. Great find.

  • zellamaybe

    It’s great to see Madder Mortem getting so much attention recently. I’ve been listening to them for something like 10 years now, and songs that I’ve heard 100 times can still make the hair on my arms stand up. I’m loving the new album so far, especially All the Giants are Dead and The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs.

  • SuzyC

    Sweet! I had assumed they were kaput. One of my top 5 bands of the Naughties.

  • Requiem

    The embedded track kicks some serious ass!