Review Summary: Whilst not entirely delivering on the promise of their self-titled debut, this is an album that is more than worth your time.
As a follow up to their self-titled debut, Martriden released ‘The Unsettling Dark’. Fans of their first effort will likely be wondering whether or not Martriden managed to deliver on the enormous promise of their EP and expand upon its sound. The short answer is no. ‘The Unsettling Dark’ lacks the sheer impact found in their debut and you are ultimately left with the feeling that it is a bit of a missed opportunity. That is not to say that this isn’t an album worth you time, far from it; there is plenty to enjoy here and those willing to invest the time to listen to it will discover a collection of songs that manage to rise above a significant portion of the competition.
It is evident that Martriden were aiming for a much grander sound this time around, and for the most part they succeed in this respect. The overall compositions are much more densely packed and generally this works in the bands favour. The riffs have an added layer of complexity to them, as do the solos, but the band still know how to rein it in to avoid technicality for technicalities sake. There is some excellent dual guitar work on display here and there is a tremendous balance between catchiness and complexity that demands thought from the listener to fully discern everything. The bass and drum work, while nothing particularly groundbreaking, do an admirable job of complementing the guitars and succeed in fleshing out the instrumentation on the record.
Once again of particular note are Kyle Howard’s keyboards, which are much more prevalent this time around. They are by no means complex, and that is most definitely a good thing. The simple melodies coast along in the background, often mimicking the guitars, yet add such a level of polish to Martriden’s sound that their songs would be noticeably hollow were they not present. This is especially noticeable on the instrumental track ‘Ascension, Pt. 2’, the only real moment of respite, where the keyboards really push the song forward and inject beauty and subtlety into what would otherwise be fairly standard fare.
With all aspects of their sound operating at full capacity where, then, do Martriden falter? Without a doubt it is the guitar work the drives the majority of the album forward and it is from this that cracks begin to emerge. Whilst I have already stated that Will Howard and Shane Thackery’s playing is exemplary, the guitars are simply too loud in the mix, to the point where they can be a little overbearing. This isn’t so much of a problem with respect to the drums and bass as they operate roughly at the same level. Even the keyboards aren’t hindered too much as they reap the rewards of their subtlety. The Vocals, however, are simply not audible enough to recreate the impact that they had on Martriden’s self titled debut. By gearing the mix toward a guitar-centric sound one of the albums standout performances has been sacrificed. Indeed, Michael Cook delivers a performance that is debatably superior to his previous effort, generally eschewing the guttural death growls for a more black metal influenced vocal style, providing an extra layer of aggression and melancholy to the proceedings, which makes it all the more shameful that he is drowned out a majority of the time.
Furthermore, it does seem that Martriden are at times guilty of resting on their laurels, rehashing old ideas. The previously mentioned ‘Ascension, Pt. 2’, while an undoubtedly fantastic track, at times recalls the outro of ‘Blank Eye Stare’ from their debut. The overall song structures, which do operate on a grander scale here, are often quite similar in tone and arrangement to their self titled effort, and at times you feel that they haven’t expanded on their sound as much as they could have.
Perhaps I am being overly critical. This is, after all, the bands first fully fledged album and what they have achieved is incredibly impressive in that respect. Judged on its own merits this is a fantastic album that is more than worth your time. There is literally not a bad song on here, with each track having at least one standout riff, breakdown or interlude. However, compared to their past achievement you are left with the feeling that this album is not all that it could have been. Nevertheless ‘The Unsettling Dark’ provides further evidence that Martriden have greatness lurking within them, they just need a little more time to goad it out.