MARTYRDOD's Top 10 Guitar Melodies
Metal Injection’s head babysitter, Rob Pasbani and I both agree that Sweden’s Martyrdöd is a little-known band. His metric has something to do with their Facebook page only having somewhere in the neighbourhood of 14k likes. I, on the other hand as someone who is able to step away from my computer and put down my phone for more than 10 minutes, see the band’s lack of popularity at shows that should be more packed and rarely ever seeing anyone sporting their merch. Understand that I’ve only ever witnessed Martyrdöd here in North America and not at home in Sweden or on anywhere else in Europe where, for all I know, they might be packing houses, swimming in merch money and have a million likes on the black market social media. Regardless, we both agree it’s criminal that Martyrdöd isn’t a lot bigger than they are: their history goes back to 2001; they’re about to issue their seventh album; are signed to both Southern Lord and Century Media. Most importantly, however, the band writes fantastic songs.
When they first started, their sound was a more orthodox brand of crust punk that was abrasive and didn’t shy away from noise, distortion and musically scraping nerves against cheese graters. With time and experience, Martyrdöd has progressed to the point I’ve been referring to them as “progressive crust metal” for most of the 2010’s. Included in their evolution is how guitarist Pontus Redig (now ex-guitarist Pontus Redig) unleashed increasing volleys of layered melodies, lines of counterpoint and complementary guitar duels beginning on Sekt, their third album from 2009, and really skyrocketing with that song writing element on 2012’s Paranoia. It’s become such that these layers of melodies or harmonies or whatever you want to call them have come to dominate the thrust of the material, taking a life of their own in the movement of the band’s songs into new and uncharted territory.
Every magazine, fanzine, blog and website in the history of the internet has run “best of” features: the albums of the year; a band’s best riffs or solos; the time I defended Lars Ulrich's drumming honour; or when I ranked Tom Araya’s best screams from the first half of Slayer’s discography. Here, we present the authoritative – and probably only – list compiling the top 10 melodic and harmonic layers you can find in Martyrdöd’s discography. The band’s new album Hexhammaren is set for release on May 10th (Century Media – EU/World) and May 25th (Southern Lord – North America) [Really? Labels still do this staggered release crap?!] and is brimming with a rougher take on the style established over the course of the previous four albums. So, we shall see how the departure of Redig impacts the band going forward. In the meantime, take a read, take a listen and see what you think. Make Rob happy and like them on Facebook. Make me happy and buy a record and/or a shirt. Make yourself happy by discovering one of the most creative jewels of extreme music today.
10) “SEKT” (taken from Sekt, 2009)
As stated in the intro, Martyrdod didn’t really kick into pairing their modulating crusty riff style with melodic layers with any real consistency until the Sekt album. But, you could hear them slowly veering towards an exploration of that stylistic element on that album’s title track. And while it’s a very noisy tune that has much of its nuance buried in a phalanx of distortion and a harsh production value that sounds like two pieces of aluminum being lit on fire, the wailing bends and held notes introduced from the track’s onset blaze enough of their own path to add some flair, especially when they screech at higher registers at the 0:23 mark or when they’re doubled at 1:26. A wailing sign of things to come.
9) “MARTYREN” (taken from Elddop, 2014)
“Martyren” is an Elddop deep cut and even when you trace the trajectory of the band from their roughshod beginnings to their more skillfully latter-year accomplishments onward, “Martyren” is still an outlier, primarily because it’s a mostly instrumental track played by a band hailing from a scene in which instrumentals are rarer than common sense in government. Secondly, the melody itself is very obviously a classically inspired (if not directly lifted) scalar run wryly churned out on the guitar as the chords string skip in the background. When it kicks in at the very beginning of the song, it sounds as if it might even be a finger-picked variation of the melody which hits with a bang at 0:43 and repeats at various points for the majority of the track. Classical crust – who’da ever thunk it?
8) “RÄNNILAR” (from Hexhammaren, 2019)
Ok, it’s still early and at the time of my writing this, Hexhammaren is still a couple weeks away from release, but I’ve had an advance copy in my grubby mitts for a month or so already. In that time, I’ve been able to give it a good many number of whirls and while making long term proclamations about its impact or how it will be received is always an educated crapshoot at best, there are a couple of numbers that have poked their head above the others. “Rännilar” starts with a simple quarter/eighth note melody that drips darkness, but a second melody barrels in at around 0:40 and 1:04 that originally sound like a shifting of the first melody or transposition to a higher harmony, but it’s actually a second guitar throwing a separate melody over everything. I quite enjoy how the second melody wavers to an even more melodic edge 1:16. As well, how the original melody adds a deeper and darker tone starting at 1:22. I can just see all the patronizing “Yeah, sure. That’s what we’re doing” commentary were the band ever to pay witness to my explanatory nitpicking.
7) “WIPEOUT” (taken from List, 2016)
There’s a certain amount of deception to the beginning of “Wipeout.” It’s starts very spacious, almost doomy, with the melodies played by Redig conjuring up images of him slinging his axe and holding his fist aloft atop cloud scraping mountains overlooking a vast expanse of greenery littered with empty beer cans. That’s part one from 0:00-0:25. Once it speeds up from 0:25-0:45, the high foreheaded majesty of the riff is whittled down by what sounds like a shift to a major key and the introduction of a counterpoint layer. When the riff kicks in, it’s a weird abrasive dyad combined with sharp pull-offs. Rinse and repeat and add in solos at 1:16, 1:46 and 2:49 that distinguish themselves enough as solos but still maintain ties and references to the thrust of the main melodies and harmonies which themselves are subjected to minute changes when they’re shaken out during the song’s second half. Take all my mumbo-jumbo for as much as you’d like, but all that matters is how awesome it sounds pieced together.
6) “ÖVERKOM ER RÄDSLA” (from Paranoia, 2012)
The reason I like this one so much is because how the melody over the main/introductory riff shifts and modulates between minute dissonant chording progressions and when it makes that brief change at 0:30 how the languid legato exists almost in direct contrast to the preceding sequence. And the hammer-on/pull-off playing at what traditional song writers might call the bridge – after they’ve finished pulling their hair out at the unconventional linearity of Martyrdöd’s writing style – remind me of guitar hero flash mixed in with a consonant NWOBHM feel, but without the crotch hugging arrogance those sorts of bands usually four seam into the spotlight. Overall, it reminds me of bands from the awesome side of metallic hardcore like Coalesce and Botch cramming their best parts into a pair of crusty punk kid’s homemade patch pants.
5) “LIST” (taken from List, 2016)
Daniel Ekeroth (who you may know from Iron Lamb, Usurpress and as the author of Swedish Death Metal) became the newest member of Martyrdöd a year ago. A couple weeks ago during an interview, he mentioned to me that “List” was his favourite song from the album of the same name and was indicative of the band he’d been aware of and friends with for 14-15 years taking the step to the next level. We didn’t get into the particulars of why and how this particular song floated his boat, but for these ears it’s how the melody the comes in at 0:39 acts as a propulsive motor to the simple duo of power chords strummed underneath. And when the transistor radio/phone effect is used as a textural drop off for the melody to continue unabated at 1:56 and how it continues when the rest of the band and sound are punched back in 20 seconds later and how trills and slides are added to liven up the line, I can see where he’s coming from. Look for a big, goofy smile emerging from behind his veil of black hair when they play this one live.
4) “ELDDOP” (taken from Elddop, 2014)
For an extreme music album, Elddop is different inside and out. The cover looks like something Weezer might have slapped on one of their many snooze-fests and it’s when the band really jumped on the shameless addition of melody. Guitars would churn out layer upon layer of running lines that would often run the entire length of the song, make shifts and changes as the riffs moved from sequence to sequence, never stopping even while vocalist Mikael Kjellman was shredding his throat. The album’s title track is a perfect example. The entire song plays out like a glorious guitar duel between the jumpy, crusty strumming and an ever-morphing guitar melody that slithers and shakes throughout the track’s 3:59 running time. It starts off with a brief nod to a classical piano etude before aggressively catching pace with a hooky jaggedness combining soaring held notes and super-brief shots of sixteenth-notes and triplets. I have no idea what sort of background music Swedish car companies use in their TV commercials, but if “Elddop” isn’t being used to prop up highly edited and staged closed-course over exaggeration of four-wheeled products, then fuck your Volvos and Saabs and buy Japanese.
3) “SYND” (taken from Elddop, 2014)
This one starts off with what I guess you could call a crusty punk re-imagination of doom metal; slow, spacious and suicidal. The coating of guitar is decent enough – especially the butterfly trills at 0:29-0:31 – and is much more interesting than what traditional mutton-chopped doom metal would offer in its attempt to not offend traditional mutton-chopped doom metal. “Synd” is actually pretty straight forward and devoid of melodic stratum during the verses, but the song’s inclusion on this list comes with the introduction of the diverging guitar at 1:56 and when it repeats at 2:37 and 3:28. With its slides, pull-offs and slight ascending/descending movement, it’s a pretty simple, but in all honesty I haven’t been able to get this fucking tune out of my head since the release of the album. Over the course of the past five years, I could be in the middle of anything – and trust me when I say, anything – and that sneaky fuck of a melody will suddenly pop into my brain. And many times, it’ll shoot out of my yap at inopportune and inappropriate moments: in the middle of conversations; during work-related meetings; moments that could be defined as ‘intimate.’ “Synd” has generated more than a few uncomfortable moments for me over the past half-decade, but fuck it, it rules. If I have to put up with listening to the blather of those I’m engaged in conversations with, the least they can do is be subjected to some good music for once in their lives, even if it’s me humming it.
2) “WAR OF WORLDS” (taken from split 7” w/Neolithic)
I remember back in high school when myself and my classmates would experience aneurysm-inducing reactions to being assigned 1000 word essays in history or english class. After a 20+ year career as a professional writer, hindsight makes me wonder about how our teachers must have been laughing at our belief that 1000 words was a big deal as they watched tomorrow’s captains of industry shit themselves with stress. It also had me wonder about how easy it is for me to crank out endless amounts of words on anything these days, to the point I have to rein myself in to meet a 1000 word word-count, which is actually a pretty piddly amount. Last year, I wrote 1600 words in proclaiming Martyrdöd’s “War of Worlds” the best song of 2018 in a piece for another website. Yup, 1600 words about a single song! Check out the link here with the understanding that there’s probably not much more I’d be able to add for this piece and that I still totally stand behind everything I wrote pertaining to the continuing majesty of this track.
1) “VICTORIA” (taken from Elddop, 2014)
You’d think a song I was able to churn out an entire essay about – and a song I subjectively proclaimed the best of an entire year – would top this list, but that would be too easy. On the other hand, if you think I’m going to crank out another 1600 on another song, you’ve got another thing coming. I’ve got dinner waiting for me downstairs! As my stomach grumbles, I’ll tell you that I’ve absolutely loved the spidery, swirling melody that introduces “Victoria” and wisely gets used repeatedly over its course. What I find unique is how closely related the single-note version of the melody is to the power chord riff (you can hear the switch at 0:11 and again at 1:16) and it doesn’t help that the melody is a super infectious earworm buffered by some larynx-abusing hoarseness. The seamless nature of how that melody slots itself right into the chorus at 0:45 and 1:39 is like finding connecting pieces in those diabolically difficult jigsaw puzzles (ever seen the bowl of popcorn puzzle? Who’s has ever finished it?). There’s a sense of relief, satisfaction and accomplishment following the tension created by the combination of melody and riff. That a brief snippet of music can create that feeling and response demonstrates its power and veracity.