Martiria - The age of the return 3.5/5
1. Last chance
2. A cry in the desert
4. The giant and the shepherd
7. The cross
8. So far away
9. Hell is not burning
10. Memories of a paradise lost
12. The age of the return
Back in the early 80s, American cult metallers Warlord forged a distinctive sound unlike any that had come before. It was unique, it was mystical, and it was powerful. Guitarist Bill Tsamis created a web of instantly recognizable, haunting melodies on tracks like "Deliver us from evil", "Child of the damned", and "Lucifer's hammer". Long departed from the scene (save for an outstanding reunion CD, 'Rising out of the ashes', released in 2002), Warlord have left a void that few have ever dared to attempt to fill.
Italy's Martiria are no clone band, but their sophomore release, 'The age of the return', successfully preserves and channels the spirit of Destroyer, Thunder Child and Archangel (as the instrumentalists in Warlord were known). The guitar lines are decidedly Tsamis-esque, the songwriting is the epitome of epic splendor, and the arrangements (for example, the interplay between guitars and faint keyboards) are often reminiscent of classic Warlord. But more than what Martiria plays, it's how they play it that recalls the mystical American metal maestros. They have undoubtedly captured the vibe of that brilliant band from years past. In fact, Martiria go one step further, enlisting in their ranks an American lead vocalist, Rick Anderson. Who, you ask? Long ago, Anderson was known as Damien King III, singer for (you guessed it) Warlord. The years may not have been kind to the bald-domed, gray-goateed, grandfatherly Anderson's physical appearance (then again, the same could be said of any of us 80s metalheads), but his voice has grown richer, fuller and more expressive over time. Less powerful, more nuanced and smoother than many of today's metal singers, Anderson does not trade in Dickinsonian histrionics or Barlowian bellows, but his melancholy, emotional style suits the songs beautifully.
And what of those songs? Braintrust/songwriter/producer/guitarist/keysman/lutist Andy Menario has penned a collection of mostly lengthy tunes (only 3 of which clock in at less than 5 minutes) with a penchant for the epic and a flair for the dramatic. Lyrically, each song tackles a different Biblical story (such as John the Baptist, the crucifixion, David and Goliath, and the Garden of Eden) in a narrative fashion that comes across as storytelling rather than preaching or moralizing. Musically, Martiria may bear the torch of Warlord, but they add their own ingredients and personality to the mix. Unlike the short, straightforward songs which were Warlord's stock in trade, Martiria prefer sprawling, meandering tunes that have a tendency to drift placidly along until reaching their destination. Speed is nowhere to be found, and the tracks unfold at a leisurely, relaxed clip that perhaps has more akin to prog rock than raging metal. (Don't be alarmed, as this is unquestionably a metal release, it's just a bit more subdued than most of what bears that banner these days). For additional spice, Menario flies in light symphonic elements via keyboard that simply add to the grandeur of the soundscapes. The icing on the proverbial cake is a 22-piece Italian choir and the occasional use of a baritone soloist.
My first few spins of this CD and its predecessor, 'The eternal soul', were exercises in frustration. Much as I loved and appreciated the nods to Warlord, I wanted more energy, more speed, more immediate hooks, and more urgency. I now understand that Martiria's music requires patience, as multiple listens are needed to appreciate it fully. I also recognize that Martiria is not a band for any mood, but is instead best suited for a soothing, contemplative late-night listen rather than a mid-afternoon mocha javaccino adrenaline jolt. They may not be perfect and they're surely no equal to the mighty Warlord, but I am thankful for Martiria and will await their next studio venture with great interest.
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