Any album that goes well over an hour sets itself a huge challenge. When your songs are not dynamic, mesmerizing drone or telling an epic story through a journey of emotions, but instead mid and fast paced songs of five minutes or more that swing between loud and louder, it’s an epic onslaught tailor-made for a special kind of the metalhead. If you’re gonna unleash this monster, make sure you’ve got the stamina.
Scar The Martyr is the brainchild of Slipknot‘s Joey Jordison, who wrote the music minus lyrics and keys and plays guitar, bass and drums, these tracks carry through some of that rhythm section groove but create a distinctly different sound. The strong industrial elements on many of the tracks are driven in large part by Chris Vrenna, ex-Nine Inch Nails, although their absence, or at least reduced impact at other times leaves the band’s personality less certain.
Guitar solos are sadly relatively short and rare given the length of the songs and album, but this is balanced by the lead lines being more melodic and are handled by Jed Simon and Kris Norris. Vocals are courtesy of Henry Derek Bonner. Who? Yep, that’s him. Poor bastard is saddled with the title “Relatively Unknown” amongst these names but it’s a nice touch and really who gives a fuck. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the names of any band members when I listened to a new record. But back to the vocals – they slide between clean and a bit growly and screamy without becoming hardcore. There’s some good tone and timbre in his voice but the production is a bit obvious at times. No mind, he holds a tune well and after 74 minutes the variety in his delivery leaves him a bit tired but not ready for the bench as the album closes.
And what’s it sound like? Well I found it hard to get to the end and had the album not come up on my phone in the wrong order I wouldn’t have heard the last couple of tracks as many times as I did. Once put in the right order I got to hear all the songs a few times, but rarely in one sitting. Twice in fact. Put simply, it starts off like a runaway freight train but around half way the pace starts to drop and it spends the rest of the time coming to a grinding halt. By the last four or so songs only the most dedicated are still moshing and everyone else has either gone home or is starting to get the first hints of the Sunday hangover. It’s too long. The songs seem to get longer as it wears on. It just isn’t progressive or experimental enough to sustain the interface with the listener. I can easily listen to Cult of Luna‘s Vertikal two or three times in a row, but this was hard work to get through once.
All of which is a great pity because the production is clean like you want for this sound, with strong, hard, metallic electronic lines, rich, thick, heavy rhythm, clear, skilful lead guitar that doesn’t get too technical, and that good strong clear voice. ‘Dark Ages’ promises so much as it bursts forth after the ‘Introduction’ with all that’s good about the record called on to perform. ‘My Retribution’ launches with some solid noisy riffs before providing plenty of reasons to flail in the pit. ‘Blood Host’ is another of the better songs but it’s not long after with ‘Prayer for Prey’ that things are starting to sound the same and despite maintaining the pace it’s just not triggering the same response.
Could have been much, much better if half was left on the studio floor.