Album Review: Madder Mortem – Old Eyes, New Heart

Album Review: Madder Mortem - Old Eyes, New Heart
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

It seems wholly fitting that one of my first album reviews of 2024 is Madder Mortem’s first record in eight years and marks the twenty-fifth anniversary since the release of their Mercury debut. One could be excused for looking at the evidence - Scandinavian, female-fronted, a gothic sound – and lumping the band in with the host of noughties artists following that musical path.

My last interaction with MM was around the Desiderata-era, when they played the Camden Underworld with Enslaved, Red Harvest and Arcturus as part of the UK Inferno London Event; and it was clear that here was a band who could easily hold their own against the likes of Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica and such.

For whatever reason, the level of success did not come, but the core of the band - founding siblings Agnete and guitarist BP Kirkevaag, alongside long-standing rhythm section of Mads Solås and Tormod Langøien Moseng - have kept the faith and continued to create music up to and including 2018’s Marrow album.

Album Review: Madder Mortem - Old Eyes, New Heart

When you realise Old Eyes, New Heart was created against the backdrop of a Kirkevaag family tragedy, the depth and nuance of the ten tracks seem to be given a more intimate consideration. Among the expected Scandinavian sounds of Coming from the Dark’s gothic power metal and Thing’s I’ll Never Do’s tempestuous riffs, you’ll find the more accessible The Head that Wears the Crown’s ear candy and Here and Now’s examination of light and shade.

Also acting as the producer of Old Eyes, New Heart, BP and newest member of the band, Anders Langberg’s guitars get down and dirty or soar like uncaged birds as the mood requires. The harsh and screeching opening and speedy progression give Master Tongue something of a System of A Down feel during the bridges, and provide the album with some of its more metal moments. Similarly, Towers adds a darkly progressive element to the driving rhythms, offering an intent to match the broad canvass of the band’s ambition.

Peppered throughout the album are tracks that may explain why Madder Mortem didn’t find the success of their contemporaries back in the day. The scope of their drive may well have exceeded an A&R department’s scope. Cold Hard Rain is a haunting, Noir-inspired tune that feels as though the cymbals are taking the role of the titular downpour; and even when it takes a turn for the fierce, it does so with a unexpected refinement. Whereas Long Road wends it way along with the laid-back vibes of an AA Williams’ number.

Coming early in the running order is probably the best example of this, with On Guard arriving like Americana, Agnete’s voice smooth as molasses, as the image of white lines passing into blackness beneath the beams of a car’s headlights is evoked. It’s the kind of unceasing beat that would sit at home on the soundtrack to a David Lynch film, its addictive rhythm and steel guitar able to stretch into perpetuity.

The passing of the Kirkevaag family patriarch, a huge supporter of the band, and whose artwork adorns the album, has inspired Madder Mortem to create a timeless record that sets the bar pretty high for the new year. I’d like to think it would see them out and about in the live environment too, as it is proof positive this is a band with much to say.

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