Madder Mortem Old Eyes New Heart artwork

Madder Mortem – Old Eyes, New Heart (Album Review)

Madder Mortem band 2024

One of the more unique acts in all the spheres of Heavy Metal, Norway’s enigmatic Madder Mortem return with their eighth studio album, entitled Old Eyes, New Heart on January 26, 2024 via Dark Essence Records. Led by Frontwoman Agnete Kirkevaag and her brother, Guitarist BP Kirkevaag, Madder Mortem began life back in 1997, just as the decade’s vibrant extremity was exploding into weirder and more creative sub-genres.  

Unfettered by the need to fit into any stylistic box, Madder Mortem’s music on the 1999 debut album Mercenary saw a clean ethereal female vocal matched with doomy, dreamy prog-infused music. While this remained an integral part of their sound, as the years and albums progressed, the band seems to have leaned into a sound that can best be described as the down-tuning and attitude of Nu-Metal mixed with heady Progressive Rock. But wherever their output wanders, it is always punctuated by the strong, clear vocals of Agnete.  

The mashup of proggy groove with modern flare takes centerstage on “Unity,” whose melodies combine with Agnete’s voice into powerful and uplifting territory. The rhythm section of Tormod Moseng on bass guitar and longtime drummer Mads Solas lays down a foundation of lower-end groove not unlike that of latter-day Strapping Young Lad, or Hypocrisy circa the Catch 22 album, but with more of a sense of compositional adventure. Where Madder Mortem seems intent on injecting that ultra-modern Nu-Metal element into the sound is on the brash spoken-word style rant toward the end of the song. 

Furthermore, echoes of older days of Norwegian Metal can be heard on “Master Tongue,” but again that groove is present. Madder Mortem shifts seamlessly between Korn and Katatonia in a way rarely encountered. There is a defiance to Agnete’s vocal lines here that both clashes with and elevates her melodiousness.  

There are other sides to the album’s face, and the contemplative “Here and Now” shows us a sweeter taste of Agnete’s ultra-diverse vocal acumen. Perhaps because of their more obscure nature, and comparatively infrequent release schedule, but Agnete Kirkevaag needs to be recognized – if for nothing else – as one of the stronger female metal voices in existence today. This song signifies exactly why. This isn’t some formulaic scream/sing/scream Mall Metal act, by any stretch.  

The sexy, sultry “On Guard” is another example of Madder Mortem’s unpredictable nature. Minimalist and quietly groove-laden, this is one of the strongest songs on the album. It juxtaposes with the rising power of a song like “The Head that Wears the Crown” with its quite difficult pitch and vocal tempo changes. This song has the sweeter elements mixed with powerful climaxes and an undeniably catchy groove. This is while album closer “The Long Road” is a broody, lovely ballad showing more of the lower end of Agnete’s vocal range. This woman’s voice could lull a stampeding herd of psychotic buffalo. This one is yet another high point on the album. 

Altogether, Madder Mortem has succeeded in laying down an album that is very difficult to pigeonhole. In a world of more and more predictable art, this in itself is a valuable thing. The groove meets prog meets ballad meets aggro nature of the album may not be for everyone, but this very thing most likely makes it appealing to a very wide audience, not just one into traditional Heavy Metal. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Old Eyes, New Heart 4 out of 5 stars. 

Madder Mortem Old Eyes New Heart artwork
Madder Mortem – Old Eyes, New Heart / Dark Essence Records (2024)

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