Originally written by Ian Dreilinger.
There’s quite a fine line between progressing to a more streamlined style of music and simply digressing. The first can be good or bad, the second is just about always bad, but what sometimes at first seems to fall into the category of digression can, with further listens, show its true colors as simply having a more concise songwriting style or as a foray into more aggressive and less intricate music. It pains me to use words like those in a positive manner as I’m normally impressed most by progression and expansion on previous good ideas, but in the case of Root’s newest record, it’s hard not to enjoy what can only be called more simplistic music than they’ve done before. Despite a few minor qualms I have with it, Madness of the Grave is, overall, a fine record.
Where on previous albums, most notably the ingenious record The Book, there was atypical use of strings and a plethora of gorgeous acoustic passages, on Madness of the Grave there are next to none. Where once were beautiful melodies utilizing dissonance there now are clear-cut and often crushing riffs lending more to aggression than beauty. Nevertheless, it’s good. The songs tend to have more elaborate lead guitar playing and riffs that are more varied. It’s as though they took an hour’s worth of ideas and compressed it into a forty-minute album. Songs like “Then”, “Endowment”, and “Taking Bones” show more progressive leanings, though in the most typical sense of the word.
Rather than beating around the bush, I’ll just get the issues I have with it out of the way here so as not to end the review on a sour note. The final two tracks are essentially useless. The ninth track, “The Last Gate”, begins with a cool organ part but spends the following six minutes with nothing but odd percussion and vocals. It’s not really bad, per se, it just fails to add anything to the album and doesn’t beg to be heard repeatedly. Afterwards, the album’s closer, is another boring and seemingly pointless exercise in album lengthening. But, that still leaves around thirty-five minutes of worthwhile music not worthy of complaints, and that’s pretty solid.
I suppose the best way to describe the sound on this album would be occasionally doomy and thrashy blackened death metal. It pretty much covers all ground and has some of the oddest vocals I’ve ever heard (though either they’ve been toned down since previous releases or I’m just used to them). To get a feel for the singing, imagine Moonspell’s singer if he was having a really bad day and emoting like a young girl getting her first period. It’s strange how cohesively all these strange elements come together, but in doing so they create quite an enjoyable product.
Overall, I think that this is Root’s most accessible album to date and the one that will likely win them the most fans. It’s not quite up to par with The Book, but it’s by no means a let down. If you’re already a fan of the band, pick this one up, you won’t be let down. If you’re not a fan yet, it’s likely that this record will win you over, especially if you’re more into straightforward metal. That’s what this is more than anything else Root has ever done and they’ve done it quite well.