Released: 2006, Peaceville Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
DESIDERATA is my first exposure to Norwegian goth metallers, Madder Mortem. The album was actually recorded two years ago but after languishing in label troubles with Century Media, the band now calls Peaceville Records home and DESIDERATA is their first release on that label. A new bassist and guitarist have also been recruited for this, the band’s fourth full-length. Musically, things aren’t too bad with plenty of dark, gothic overtones and themes throughout. Guitars are downtuned resulting in a lot of chugging riffs but there are also many soaring leads that perk up the drudgery. What really plagues Madder Mortem is the vocals of Agnete Kirkevaag. She possesses none of the dynamic range of Liv Kristine (Leaves’ Eyes, ex-Theatre of Tragedy), Anneke Van Giersbergen (The Gathering) or Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and she isn’t even in the same ballpark as Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish). Even second-tier chanteuses like Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) and Simone Simons (Epica) are vastly superior to the mid-range, out-of-tune warbling of Kirkevaag. She is one of the band’s founding members and has been with them since 1993, so obviously she has her fanbase but I have heard more pleasant sounds coming from the late-night humping of two alley cats. When she isn’t trying to sing above her limited range, Kirkevaag is subpar at best. Often resorting to a shouted delivery, it really is painful to sit through all 55 minutes of DESIDERATA and I can’t help but think that this band would be much better off with a different vocalist.
“My Name Is Silence” (inexplicably chosen as the album’s first single) gets going with a speedy pace but the oddly-timed riffs and processed vocals of Kirkevaag send things south quickly. “Evasions” has a rather catchy chorus and Kirkevaag doesn’t sound too bad…at first. Wavering from a soft, ethereal vocal in the verse to a soaring, cleanly sung chorus in the first half of the song, a painful cry of “Say my name” is repeated to grating effect in the second half along with chugging guitars that hearken back to the not so glorious days of nu-metal. “Plague On This Land” contains some faster sections and the Maiden-like guitar harmonies that kick in just past the 2:00 mark are a definite highlight. “M For Malice” sees Kirkevaag’s brother and guitarist, BP, back her with some great death vocals in the chorus. Mads Solås’ drums and the bludgeoning riffs at the end of this track are a welcome slice of heaviness. “Dystopia” and “The Flood To Come” see Kirkevaag tread into Joni Mitchell/Sarah McLachlan territory, attempting a soulful croon that is met with mixed results. By the time Kirkevaag began passionately screeching out “CHAAAAANGE!” during “Changeling,” my patience nearly reached an end. Fortunately, I persevered through that horror show to hear the bleak, musical landscape created by “Cold Stone.” The industrial-feel to the percussion emanates outward generating an interesting listening experience. Likewise, the Euro club beat of “Hypnos” sounds like Bjork’s “Army of Me” and the first half of “Hangman” would not be out of place on a Portishead album, which was a real surprise. The title track finds Kirkevaag once again trying to stretch well beyond her vocal comfort zone and the result is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Maybe it’s just me and Madder Mortem is the cat’s pajamas but I just cannot get past the atrocious vocals of Agnete Kirkevaag. The rest of the band seems capable enough and the music is certainly not your typical fare but Kirkevaag shouldn’t even be let near a karaoke bar, let alone a recording studio. DESIDERATA will find an audience just as Madder Mortem’s other albums have and I fully expect a deluge of hate mail from The Agnete Kirkevaag Fan Club, so I will leave it up to the reader to decide which side of the fence he or she is on. In fairness to the rest of Madder Mortem, below is a broken down score of DESIDERATA because it doesn't deserve to be written off solely due to the vocals:
Music = 3.5/5
Vocals = 1/5
Overall = 2/5
KILLER KUTS: “Evasions,” “Plague On This Land,” “M For Malice,” “Cold Stone”