Finding excellence in unexpected places is one of the greatest joys in the (otherwise sordid) life of a music-reviewing scribe. While I haven’t been terrible vocal on this forum regarding personal opinions on melodic metalcore/post-hardcore, here’s a primer: I don’t explore those particular bogs frequently, as the vast majority seems to exist in a nebulous state of commercial creative regurgitation. And I don’t like bile on my boots.
But, on infrequent yet glorious occasion, a band like The Last Martyr takes elements of an established sound, add their own spin, and elevate said genre out of the murk. At risk of spoiling the rest of this damn review, let’s just say that Creatrix, the stellar debut EP before ye, succeeds enormously in this regard.
Melbourne’s The Last Martyr is a five-piece with some serious fire under their asses. With very few tracks to their name, they have managed to pull in quite the following on ye olde Spotify. Pretty indicative out what the future holds. But! Before we get too far into the specifics, let’s get the obvious sorted.
Monica Strut is an absolutely behemothian vocalist and frontwoman. Just throw on opener “Into the Black” for 60 seconds for a taste of her ability to switch delivery styles at the drop of a hat. Open diaphragm melodicism, larynx-shred, hardcore chant. And back again. Her range is impressive, to say the least, and the dynamic quality of her tone prevents any particular moment from feeling stagnant or overwrought. Certainly the most unexpected aspect of Creatrix is Strut’s harsh delivery, utilized frequently and to a singularly effective degree. While she certainly doesn’t carry the same pop-punky overtones, I’m reminded of Becca Macintyre of Marmozets (which, trust me, is a compliment; The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets was, oddly enough, my 2014 album of the year.*) Both possess the unique ability to inject their harsh vocals with a heartfelt purpose and emotive backbone, which lends the entire affair an irreplicable weight. For The Last Martyr, aggressive moments don’t simply exist so they can squeeze into the genre expectations--and this is only bolstered by the occasional male vocals. See
"Fear"--it’s a seamless trick, far beyond the female/male vocal strategy employed by, say, Sister Shotgun. The harsh delivery is truly integral to the songwriting, and feel the furthest from contrived. And we still haven’t touched on the cleans, which are infectious and perpetually dangerous. Even at her sweetest, Strut never removes her fangs.
Instrumentally, The Last Martyr blend the chug-heavy post-hardcore influence of Asking Alexandria and/or Periphery with the more experimental dynamism of Spiritbox. At their most brutal, there’s a little classic metalcore in the sheer weight of the riffage--think The Flood-era Of Mice and Men--but the melodic elements throughout far outweigh rhythm guitar chug-fests. Speaking specifically to the guitar, there is never a dull moment, as they weave, pound, tear, and occasionally leave the picture entirely in favor of some percussive ambiance. It’s tempting to call the axework here “massive,” because at times it truly is cranium-crushing, but the consistent ability to pull far back from the limelight gives the entire EP a surprisingly light and progressive edge. Definitely not gentle, but certainly graceful. And, as always, it feels strange to compliment the drums for their unobtrusiveness, but Vin Krishnan does an excellent job at contributing interest to the quieter moments. “Echoes” and pre-chorus on “Fear” provide prime examples. There is genuinely never a dull moment with this crew, and that’s saying something for a genre that has come to be known for an over-reliance on the guitar to draw the listener in.
Critically, the vocals--while always executed with great finesse, I hasten to reiterate--occasionally feel overly forward and hence a little weightless in the mix. While the sheer dynamism holds it together regardless, there are several higher register moments, such as the first few lines of “Into the Black,” that hang slightly detached from the instrumentation. Again, this is more of a production concern than an issue with vocal delivery. Otherwise, I’ve got nothing. Every track herein feels unique, yet remains A. compulsively listenable and B. connected to the overall brand. And, lest it be forgot: the fact that within 5 tracks The Last Martyr have established a sonic and thematic brand so (seemingly) effortlessly is telling in and of itself. That’s an accomplishment. Here at the Village, we review many EPs from bands that have yet to release a full-length. Very, very seldom are they so professionally accomplished.
The Last Martyr operate with a confident finesse that is, frankly, a little unexpected from such an untested outfit. The obvious response is to wonder what the hell else they are capable of--and the evolution across this 5 track only reinforces my curiosity. Of this I have zero doubts: The Last Martyr have an utterly massive album in them. The kind of album that makes people wake up, sit up, take notice, and throng in fandom. As such, this particular Villager is supremely excited for a (hopefully forthcoming) full length from this crew. Great things await. In the meantime, Creatrix comes highly recommended, regardless of whether or not you think the genre tag is for you.
The Last Martyr - Creatrix was released in North America on August 9th.
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