|Musical Style: Epic Metal||Produced By: Andy Menario|
|Record Label: My Graveyard||Country Of Origin: Italy|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website: Martiria|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 63:26|
Behold On The Way Back, the fourth full length album from one of Italy’s top metal bands, Martiria. The origin of Martiria dates to 1987 when it started as a doom metal act and recorded several well received demos prior to disbanding in the late nineties without having signed a deal. After reforming following the turn of the century, Martiria unveiled its new musical direction - epic metal but giving rise to occasional doom metal overtones - on the three albums it recorded in five years: The Eternal Soul (2004), The Age Of The Return (2005) and Time Of Truth (2008). On The Way Back followed in the summer of 2011.
The Angelic Warlord review of The Age Of The Return described it as “(continuing) in the same epic power metal direction of (The Eternal Soul)” while also “built upon a foundation of classic heavy metal but reflecting the bands doom-like influences of the past”. The same holds true for On The Way Back, but this time with Martiria taking the all around heavier and more doom based approach- almost to the point I am tempted to label the group “epic doom metal” as opposed to “epic metal”. Many of the trademark qualities to doom metal, for instance, are now represented in the Martiria sound: Extremely heavy and slow paced riffing along with the needed dark and down tuned low-end heaviness. Mix in the operatic and orchestral elements along with the classical instrumental and choirs characteristic to epic metal and you end up with the signature Martiria sound.
But does it work? Now, I am not the biggest doom-metal connoisseur due to the lack of notable melody that at times can characterize the genres songwriting. Not so with Martiria in that the group composes its material with intentional melody in mind, albeit on the subtle of things in that, similar to The Age Of The Return, On The Way Back took several listens in order to grow on me- but fully embrace it I did!
Take “Song” and “Gilgamesh”, two hulking examples of subterranean doom metal that rest upon a foundation of unyielding melody. “Drought” and “Apocalypse” are also catchy and doom-like in adding some of the group’s trademark epic flavorings while “Ashes To Ashes” takes a similar heading but on the more melancholic side of things. Some traditional metal influences can even be found in “The Slaughter Of The Guilties”. A couple of lengthier pieces are included as well, with “The Sower” bringing a progressive based sound and “Twenty Eight Steps” nine no-nonsense minutes of bone crushing heaviness. When Martiria chooses to mellow out, they do so in style, as evident on the haunting semi ballad “You Brought Me Sorrow” and the albums acoustic based title track.
What impresses is how Martiria, again, imbues its songwriting with just enough melody while remaining plenty heavy at the same time. In other words, the group’s material avoids the dreaded pitfalls of repetition and overbearing- something that a lot of doom-metal (at least based upon my experience) does not manage to do. What further stands out is that Martiria accomplishes this while frequently carrying its songs into the six and seven minute range (and sometimes higher). So I guess heavy and lengthy but equally melodic would be the best way to describe what is going on here musically.
Another aspect to doom metal I find a turn off is the often harsh (at times abrasive) vocal direction. Martiria goes against the grain in that vocalist Rick Anderson, previously known as Damien King III while a member of the epic metal band Warlord during the 80’s, brings a smooth and clean mid-ranged presence. If anything, On The Way Back finds him singing with the greater power, range and confidence as he exhibits the full range to his voice on “The Sower” while cutting loose in operatic fashion on “Drought”.
Guitarist Andy Menario, obviously responsible for the group’s heavier direction, puts in a top performance, whether it be adding a full on rhythm guitar sound - ranging from riffs that are slow and weighty to those heading in the faster and more upbeat direction - or complementing things with his ever present acoustic guitar. Soloing is also adeptly done, as he best demonstrates on “Song” (radiant direction) and “You Brought Me Sorrow” (emotional feel to his playing).
It also must be noted the technical drum work of Umberto Spiniello, who adorns the project with his creative drum rolls and fills and proves a more than above average timekeeping in the process.
Production is of a high quality, literally breathing of life in allowing the instrumentation to rise above the mix.
While not a Christian band, Martiria does include one believing member in Rick Anderson, who in the liner notes openly thanks “my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for salvation and the promise of life everlasting”. Lyrics, composed by Marco Capelli, are positive in dealing with topics ranging from life’s regrets, unexplained tragedies, ancient mythology and child abuse. The group even set an old Edgar Allan Poe poem to music (“Song”).
Track By Track
Medieval style vocal melodies carry the extent of short (:44) introductory piece “Cantico”.
“Drought” represents this reviewer’s choice track. Mid-paced and laid back, the song presents with significant guitar driven punch but balanced by a refined melding of keyboards and occasional acoustic lacings. A subtly done but profound melody puts things over the top.
The aptly entitled “Apocalypse” brings an inauspicious feel. The song starts quietly to an acoustic guitar but abruptly gains impetus as a driving rhythm guitar kicks in, pushing things forward weightily prior to descending into the low-key depths that are its bone chilling chorus. The acoustic guitar returns at the start of a hulking as all get out instrumental stretch. Life’s regrets (or trying and failing) is the topic at hand:
The darkness is so deep
Two many promises I’ve left
I’ll never keep
Oh, my Lord
I’ve tried, I swear
To follow Your words
I failed, I know
Still it seems so unfair
Leaving for nowhere
“Song” is doom metal all the way. With its trenchant and slow paced riffing and swarthy low end, the song grinds its distance in establishing a setting that has portent written all over it. Yes, this one leaves little doubt as to its heaviness but proves quite listenable in that, once more, a striking melody is established. The only time initiative picks up is for a blistering guitar solo.
Another choice track is “Ashes To Ashes”. More doom-like overtures are represented here, reflected in a lengthy instrumental opening carried by chilling keyboards. But at a moments notice things pick up in pace as the song hits its verses, staunchly flowing ahead until obtaining an atmospheric chorus upheld by big choir-like backing vocals. At just the point you think “Ashes To Ashes” is going to fade out it gives way to an acoustic based instrumental passage in which a heavy hitting rhythm guitar maneuvers in and out of the mix. “Ashes To Ashes” deals with tragedies (or the loss of a loved one):
Glass’s a pail stain
Death a painless curtain
While a man lays there
Waits a child alone
For a dad not coming home
And the question is
Always the same
An useless: “why”?
I am so tired, Lord
So useless, so old
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Of course, what should we add?
“The Sower”, the first of the albums two epics, brings too many twists and turns to go into adequate detail- needless to say it highlights a more progressive aspect to the Martiria sound. In terms of specifics, you will find acoustic guitars backed by recorder, guitar driven heavier moments, quieter passages with a ballad-ish feel and woodwinds and piano at the start of a grand instrumental section. Rounding things out is Anderson’s emotional vocal performance. “The Sower” revolves around the seasons of life:
A field requires patience
Come back, don’t fear
The trees will know
If I won’t be here
Leaves are rotting slowly in the rain
Raises fog from fields, sleeps the grain
Empty’s the fireplace, ashes’re cold
Burnt is the candle, life’s on hold
Earth gives life
Earth takes it away
Sadly sings a fay
“Gilgamesh” represents a return to a more traditional doom-based sound. A ton of staunch guitar and low end emphasis is present here - slow, driving and fixed as it gets - but so is a flowing melody that prevents things from turning heavy handed with repeated listen. A radiant run of lead guitar perfectly contrasts with the unwavering scene.
A more traditional metal approach can be found on “The Slaughter Of The Guilties”. The song moves its first minute and a half gently to an acoustic guitar until a heavy duty rhythm guitar cuts in, staunchly propelling things forward until a classically flavored chorus interwoven with distant vocal melodies is achieved. Some compelling time and tempo changes are established in the process. The focus here is on child abuse:
Father it’s easy
To become like you
I long for your hand
You smash my face
This is the only love
But burns inside
Wasn’t I a child?
Evil’s a flower
Growing fast ‘n’ harsh
They deserve the blade
Deserve the marsh
Debts have to be paid
“You Brought Me Sorrow” comes across in the form of a doom metal semi-ballad. Acoustic guitars, keyboards and an ever present bass line carry the song during its airy verses, the guitar only stepping forward for a spine tingling chorus aligning with the unsettled scene. Do I dare say that the stand out melody approaches the commercial in capacity? “You Brought Me Sorrow” has the potential to gain the group some airplay as a result.
“Twenty Eight Steps”, the albums longest at nine minutes, proves as no-nonsense a piece as you will find. Plodding, relentless and just plain heavy, the song dominates its distance with nothing less a relentless milieu and harrowing refrain. No, this one might not highlight the most melody, but it does not need it in that there is more than enough weighty power and progressive fortitude to put things over the top. Saving a lost soul seems to be the message discussed:
In a wood of sins and regrets
Wolves are on my steps
Every breath is the last
I have to run to be fast
Yes, her eyes were grey
And her soul was lost
Now I know
I couldn’t bring her back to light
But Lord, you know
It seemed so right…
“On The Way Back” breaks from the doom metal proclivities in moving its length to orchestration and some adeptly played Spanish guitar. It makes for an interesting change of pace that, needless to say, works.
One cannot help but appreciate how Martiria plays to its strengths on On The Way Back: And that is combining the best aspects of epic and doom metal while interweaving its material with sufficient melody in the process. Yes, the album did take several listens to grow on me but in the end proves well worth the time and effort. Give On The Way Back the chance and I am confident you will feel the same way.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Cantico” (:44), “Drought” (6:20), “Apocalypse” (7:21), “Song” (4:12), “Ashes To Ashes” (6:06), “The Sower” (7:52), “Gilgamesh” (5:27), “The Slaughter Of The Guilties” (6:53), “You Brought Me Sorrow” (4:42), “Twenty Eight Steps” (9:07), “On The Way Back” (4:36)
Rick Anderson – Lead Vocals
Andy Menario – Guitars, Keyboards & Lute
Derek Maniscalco – Bass
Umberto Spiniello – Drums & Percussion
Marco Roberto Capelli – Lyrics
Nicole Menarini - Flute