Mar De Grises 
The Tatterdemalion Express
~review by Matthew Heilman

Mar De Grises is a dark and innovative metal band that hails not from the cold forests of Norway or the rainy moors of rural England, but from Chile of all places.  The Tatterdemalion Express is the band’s debut after forming in 2000, and as the title ambiguously indicates, their musical offering is indeed a ‘tattered, ragged’ journey.  But it might also be one of the most pleasurably challenging and genre expanding dark metal releases of the year.

If I could choose one word alone to describe Mar De Grises, it would be sophistication.  While the band draws from similar sources as other leading dark metal bands, it is the manner in which they have applied these elements that make them so unique.  They have the density and frightful darkness of Funeral Doom, the grace and fluidity of Gothic Metal, and a suitably progressive sense of timing and arrangement.   The rhythms and changes are impressively dynamic, and the atmospheres range from somber calm to tempestuous rage.  The entire album is underscored by a marvelous sense of unease and restlessness that keeps the listener not only on the edge of their seat, but constantly looking over their shoulder.

The guitar work is mammoth, a fondness for thick barred chords or jarring atonal jabs and shrill pinches. Indeed, there are a wealth of melodic riffs and elegant harmonies, but the effect is significantly more profound than most contemporary bands passing themselves off as ‘Gothic Metal.”  The band’s melodies are not marred by over sentimentality.  The mood evoked is one of honest contemplation, as opposed to the common tendency of bands to wallow in self-aggrandizing pseudo romantic pity with the trendy hope to pass as melancholic.  This same gravitation toward the bitter instead of the sweet is brilliantly reflected in the keyboard playing, which frequently employs dissonant chord patterns and sharp, sustained synth-noise to create a more subtle and disquieting effect.  The threatening growls and raspy clean vocals lurk in the shadows of it all, sneaking in and out of the musical fog.  The album’s production is very warm and spacious, the guitar rendered with deep bottom end, the drums crisp and punchy, with a tasteful amount of reverb to enhance the overall atmosphere.

The listener is downright attacked by the band upon pressing play the first time. “El Otro” begins abruptly, introducing a wall of magnificent darkness and unbridled cacophony, massive and utterly foreboding.  Only a quick swell of nearly imperceptible feedback prefaces the song’s introductory eruption.  An elongated vocal roar monstrously crowns a whirlpool of pummeling crunch, grinding drum dirges and disharmonized layers of synth.  A serpent’s hiss and disjointed riffs appear amidst the maelstrom, with ragged pianos eventually pushing the nightmare past the point of excess.  The overall sound is just gigantic, incomparably dense, and immediately arresting.  Aural terror rages on for about three minutes before fading into a deceptively quiet interval of murky arpeggios and lugubrious drumming.  The effect is like a paranoid dream, where you unknowingly stumble along a shadowed, drafty hallway, beckoned by some unknown and irresistible force.  This hypnotic interlude in many ways could be said to be picking up where Anathema left off with “The Silent Enigma.”  The song eventually crescendos to a climactic finale, spurred on by a shuffling rhythmic propulsion, intricate riffing and drumming, and violent stabs of guitar.  Disordered synths present a surreal ‘melting’ effect achieved by random pitch bending, diving in and out of key, to resemble a vast choir of vengeful ghosts.

The listener is shaken, stirred, and impressed.  “To See Saturn Fall” is a decidedly more direct and up-tempo song; an elegant melodicism shapes it, pushing it forward toward more dynamic variety.  At first, the song comfortably treads the epic pastures of bands like In Flames or Tristania before they fell from grace, or a less emotionally detached Opeth.  Ultimately the song pushes toward a climax as the melodic center completely falls through, collapsing into a disjointed and hellish mire of manic piano and feverish experiment, bashed out and hammered, until you can’t help but wonder if the band lost their minds right there in the studio. But they explode back into a tight galloping riff, blazing across the aural landscapes with grace and determination, with their faculties entirely in check.

“Storm” is perhaps one of the strongest and most powerful moments on the album, boasting a deeply affective introduction, steeped in dreary yearning and haunting gloom.  With the pained, dusty vocal delivery lurching atop the ringing tides of murky guitars and spectral volume swells, one can’t help but recall the Fields Of The Nephilim.  The song explodes into confident, metallic heights of breathtaking beauty.  It is just absolutely an outstanding and paralyzing good song, dynamically sailing through bombast and serenity, never abandoning the listener.  A trickling chorus of layered piano riffs flit about at the heart of “Recklessness,” the next triumphant track to appear on the disc.  The song introduces a variety of catchy yet powerfully stinging twin guitar harmonies and impassioned vocals, the band’s most accessible yet commanding and emotional moments.

The instrumental “Self Portrait No. 1” is not the average short solo piano piece to appear on a contemporary dark metal record.  These are professionally skilled hands tickling the ivory here, and the result sounds like a genuine piano sonata or impromptu close to the style of Chopin or Debussy.   “Be Welcome Oh Hideous Hell” unexpectedly cuts through the nocturnal tranquility of the piano piece with perhaps the most dynamic and explosive track yet, offering a truly fascinating arrangement, with rhythms offsetting one another, odd time signatures - unpredictability reigns supreme.  As the band grows more technical, they are careful not to neglect the atmosphere.  The more complex the rhythms become, the melodies reach a new poignancy.

The otherworldly “Onírica” brings this extraordinary album to a fine close.  A heavenly echo enhances this quieter though no less powerful song.  Loose, fluid guitars ring over languid drumming, as soft vocals drift and whisper from what sounds like another sphere.  The song is the sound of fading away, rising into the light, with only a slight regret and sadness for the world you will leave behind.   The fragile ethereal grace on this track in particular is comparable to perhaps Soul Whirling Somewhere or Slowdive alone.  Hopeful abandon, an aspiration for peace, and a fear of the unknown usher the song toward its spine-tingling climax.

Each track on this album stands as an individual work of elaborate art.  As a whole, it is simply a majestic collection of high-metal excellence.  The only drawbacks are the lyrics, which when written in English, fail to reach their poetic potential.  The ideas are not entirely lost, but they just read awkwardly and it is apparent that they have not fully mastered the subtly of the language.  Ultimately, this is rather incidental as its difficult to make out any of the words in the first place.  The music speaks volumes and makes up for this indiscretion, and it is impossible not to perceive the feelings expressed in the vocal and instrumental performances.  That aside, Mar De Grises is a dark metal band that is not to be missed.  The occasionally abrupt and unpredictable style might be hard for some fans to initially adapt to, but I can’t imagine any fan of dark music not feeling the impact of this release.

Track list:
1. El Otro...
2. To See Saturn Fall
3. Storm
4. Recklessness
5. Self Portrait No.1
6. Be Welcome Oh Hideous Hell
7. Onírica

Mar De Grises is:

Marcelo Rodriguez: vocals, keyboards
Rodrigo Morris: guitar
Sergio Alvarez: guitar
Alejandro Arce: drums
Rodrigo Gálvez: bass

Mar De Grises – Official Website

Firebox Records: