To outsiders, crust punk doesn’t require much explanation. It’s all right there in the name — crust punk. It’s crusty, grimy, dirty, nasty, thick and vile. It gets under your fingernails, comes coated in a filthy layer of muck, leaves a ring in the tub or the sink, and takes some industrial strength cleanser to wash off. Though the leftist politics of bands like Amebix, Doom or Nausea are as important to its identity as the sound, it’s pretty simple once you get down to it: if it sounds polished or clean, for the most part, it ain’t crust.
Swede underground vets Martyrdöd have spent their share wallowing in pits of raunchy distortion over the past 10 years, having worn their crust badge proud. Yet for their first album for Southern Lord, Paranoia, the Scandinavian crew has enlisted famed death metal producer Fredrik Nordström, a man famed for his work with some of the most crisp and accessible names in death metal, such as At the Gates, In Flames and Opeth. Not coincidentally, Paranoia is about as polished as a crust punk album could possibly sound, still raw and aggressive, but diamond sharp, each riff given a proper layer of lacquer to properly gleam while retaining the proper amount of dirt to still be called “crust.”
With all their lyrics sung in an unintelligible Swedish growl, the level to which Martyrdöd adheres to any political ideal is a bit hard to gauge, but on a purely sonic level, the group is a bit more progressive minded. While few tracks on Paranoia stray far from a classic d-beat pummel, the means through which they achieve their searing hardcore attack rely on a surprising amount of variance. Leadoff track “Nog Är Nog,” right off the bat, gets right to some mesmerizing melodic leads, resulting in something far catchier than even the hookiest melodeath bands might offer. “Överkom Er Rädsla” doesn’t slacken the punk rock pace, but keeps up a frantic d-beat firestorm with a helping of psych-rock sludge riffs a la Baroness. And sometimes even the most straightforward approach, like the three-chord crunch of “En Tragik Zeitgeist,” proves to be among the most satisfying, the band’s melodic maelstrom achieving something close to perfection.
With the emphasis on higher fidelity and a more refined production aesthetic, Martyrdöd graduates beyond the grit of crust punk toward a still brutal, but more polished form of metallic hardcore. A good chorus or a catchy riff can go a long way in a field crowded with mud-caked bruisers, and Paranoia finds each song stuffed with melody, character and, above all, a uniquely appealing aesthetic.
Stream: Martyrdöd – “Kottberg”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.