While Gothenburg’s melodeath bands dilly-dallied with their harmonic guitar lines and playful melodies the less harmonious and filth-ridden beasts of punky D-beat slimed their way around the city’s sewers. In the 80s and 90s Swedish bands like Anti Cimex and Totalitär funnelled the crusted hardcore-punk sound of Discharge and their British counterparts through even dirtier Swedish backwaters. Thirty years later Martyrdöd continue to drive this stubborn, crust-speckled and weathered vehicle forward, however they’ve picked up a few hitchhikers along the way. A more measured and atmospheric passenger has allowed for snaking folk melodies and slower sections to merge with the snarling black-metal inspired intensity of their previous six full-lengths. List, the band’s seventh full-length, continues the more melodic focus of previous album Elddop while maintaining an incessant d-beat barrage. The question is: can Martyrdöd’s snaking melodies coil their way into a listener’s heart, or is this their style’s equivalent of Groundhog Day?
List begins with big, fat drum beats and ends with big, fat drum beats. The d-beat drum style (bass, snare and cymbal constancy) gallops with the intensity of the blood encrusted cataphract through a field of fleeing soldiers. However beneath this immovable force is a flow of liquid gold in the form of melodic lead-guitar licks and solos that simmer organically. Touches of folky-viking metal float through “List,” for example, while in “Över på ett stick” simple slithering leads layer satisfyingly over the constant barrage of noise. As the song slows to a steady rhythm, single note melodies push their way to the fore and each prolonged note lingers and stings through the mix to great effect. Continually, during penultimate track “Intervention” guitar lines twist, turn and spiral through the mix with a forthright intensity, while in final track “Transmission,” as proceedings take a doomier direction, spurts of quick-fire riffing counteract nicely with the more measured passages.
The problem is Martyrdöd are formulaic. They’re consistently decent, but that’s about it. Their guitar melodies are diverse enough to keep one interested for 36-minutes, however there’s nothing exceptionally gripping, nothing that will make me want to revisit List over and over again. There are brief moments in the majority of songs that show glimpses of excellence, however these are fleeting. Songs like “Handlöst fallen ängel” and “Oemotståndlig” wash through the album blandly; they lack the hooks and memorable melodies to have any real longevity. Generally songs follow the same format with largely forgettable solos careering through the mix about a third of the way through a three-to-four minute song before typically coming to an abrupt and uninspiring end.
Production-wise the album feels dense, and not in a positive way. Melody clashes with discord, and not always to great effect either. The iconic chainsaw rhythm guitar tone is overbearing throughout and the subtleties that give List its flavor are too often subdued by a muffling wall-of-sound. The harsh vocals too incessantly grate. Despite Mikael Kjellman’s mid-ranged rasps being full of seething rage, his uniform delivery throughout often adds little to the dynamics of the album.
List is an album that doesn’t really seem to get going. It’s fully armored and ready for battle but it fails to break out of a leisurely trot. We only get glimpses of the beast in full stride. List is on the verge of combat, the glorious collision, but that satisfaction is pulled away from us as the album ends. Consistency is one thing, but Martyrdöd have been consistent for seven albums now, and although List is not a bad album by any means, it’s not gripping or diverse enough to be a very good release. Despite its reasonably short run length List feels long, and that’s not necessarily a positive. Maybe album number eight will deliver the goods.