Fear the Universe
Rusty Cage Records
1/7/2010 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
As a certifiable loony when it comes to vintage Euro metal, I am rather surprised that I had never heard of Netherlander's Martyr until this oddly titled double CD package came my way for review. For those of you who were just as confused as I was upon reading that seemingly nonsensical album title, Fear the Universe is a shortened hybrid title for the two rather short- and very different- albums contained herein: Martyr's new 2009 reunion release "Fear" and their 1984 debut "For the Universe".
A lot can change in a quarter century, and comparing these releases side by side, heard in quick succession, reveals that Martyr are indeed a band whose sound has changed considerably since 1984. A listen to their reissued debut reveals a busy, melodic, ambitious but somehow rushed-sounding approximation of a spaced out version of French metallers Sortilege or a low-budget, echo-heavy Maiden derivative. Pop in the Fear disc, however, and you will hear much more modern, slightly more polished, but fairly basic chug metal that sounds like the work of a band weaned on Tool and 90s-era Metallica.
Confused? So am I. Sure, a band can change their sound considerably over time, but the two releases combined here sound like the works of two very different gatherings of minds (even though the same two guitarists and bassists are present throughout). For the Universe boasts tricky song structures, tasteful but not particularly remarkable melodic soloing and soaring vocals over tuneful, very European-sounding riffs. Fear, oddly enough, chucks most of that out the window in favor of the more modern (but still adventurous) sound described above.
There is, however, one feature that I find common to both releases: a sort of naiveté that was somewhat expected and welcome for a new band, but simply a head-scratcher this late in the game. The debut sounds like the work of an ambitious, determined bunch of upstarts who wanted to lay down something impressive but hadn't quite developed the necessary chops and general know-how to execute it properly (in the case of this album, the recording quality didn't help either). On Fear, meanwhile, the band have managed to get a much more professional recording job done (with improved playing tightness to match), and a bit of the compositional adventurousness is still there, but the new songwriting approach seems a bit trendy, derivative and indistinct.
In short, it seems that Martyr are a band who appeared promising from the get-go, but have never managed to forge (or rather, stick to) a distinctive sound to call their own. Fear, in particular, seems the work of a commendably creative band stifled by stylistic second-guessing, perhaps in a misguided attempt to sound current. Really, I simply don't know what Martyr are trying to do musically, and frankly, I'm wondering if they themselves even know.
Choice cuts: Fear's "Eaten Alive," which combines the Tool and 90s Metallica-type sounds (including a very James Hetfield-like vocal on the chorus) with an intro riff that could have come from the For the Universe days; and most of the debut album, but especially the valiant "Speed of Samurai."
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