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Martyrdöd - Hexhammaren Music Album Reviews

Eighteen years into its existence, the Swedish band continues to find ways to make a familiar fusion of melodic death metal, crust punk, and d-beat sound fresh.

It’s hard to think of another band besides Martyrdöd that has ticked quite so many boxes on the “Swedish metal/punk” checklist during its 18 years of existence. Debut album recorded at underground metal hub Necromorbus Studios? Check. Round two (and, after a brief dip into DIY recording for album number three, rounds four through seven) recorded at Gothenburg’s iconic Studio Fredman, arguably the birthplace of Swedish melodic death metal? Check. Bulletproof scene bona fides via members who have done time in a number of other local metal/punk luminaries like Skitsystem, Agrimonia, Miasmal, and Iron Lamb (and, in the case of bassist Daniel Ekeroth, quite literally wrote the book on Swedish death metal)? Double check. An evolving sound that’s perpetually described as “crust punk” or “d-beat” (“kängpunk” for the diehards) yet often shares more sonic similarities with melodic death-metal gods At the Gates’ mid-1990s output than crust legends Anti Cimex? Big honking check.

On their seventh album, Hexhammaren, Martyrdöd have doubled down on the melodic pattern they’ve been drawing from since the band was just a shared twinkle in guitarist Mikael Kjellman’s and drummer Jens Bäckelin’s eyes. The album opens with the title track (which almost-but-not-quite translates to “witch hammer”), whose dashing twin guitars, hoarse vocals, punchy d-beats, and appealingly warm, grimy production provide a strong indicator for how the rest of the album is going to unfold.

It can be difficult to keep this style of music from getting monotonous over the course of an album, and it’s true that Martyrdöd tend to stick to the blueprints they’ve laid out. When they push themselves harder and venture outside that comfort zone, though, the rewards are great. The guitar solos in particular deserve mention; their insertion never feels forced, but draws out the nuances of each song. That level of care really makes the end result sing, and Hexhammaren is liberally flavored with this kind of savvy, dynamic songwriting.

Their general approach has remained remarkably consistent over their nearly 20 years in the game, but that’s not to say they’re a one-trick pony; Hexhammaren does have its surprises. “War on Peace” is a straightforward punk banger with Disfear written all over it, while “In the Dead of the Night” is drenched in atmosphere from its onset, when a lone guitar calls the listener forward into the void. The vocals on “Helveteslarm” jump out, and for a moment, are nearly scrubbed clean during a spooky midsong break.

“Bait and Switch” features some truly lovely melodic guitar work, and the unexpectedly lysergic album closer “Sthlm Syndrome” interchanges furious d-beats with drips of threnodial doom and bouncy solos. That crusty intent is still there, particularly in the production, which is thick and fuzzy enough to withstand an onslaught of three-chord fury, but could just as easily have graced an early Entombed joint.

By now, these Scandinavian jawbreakers have settled into a groove, and that they’re still willing to experiment a bit with what is fundamentally a rather standardized genre just shows how seriously they take their craft. Martyrdöd are living proof that old punks never die—they just start metal bands instead.

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