Opening with symphonic introduction ‘Ad astra’ the latest offering from Betraying the Martyrs somehow succeeds in sounding like the soundtrack to a fantasy film such as Pirates of the Caribbean. As a result when ‘Martyrs’ is let loose it sounds all the more over the top and stunningly brutal. With vocals courtesy of the English-born Aaron (the remainder of the band hail from Paris) who joined the band following the departure of their former singer who left following the highly successful ‘the hurt, the divine, the light’ EP, and the music offering up a mix of brutal death metal and jazz-infused math-core, Betraying the martyrs have crafted a powerful follow-up to the EP that is bound to find admirers the world over.
However, ‘breathe in life’ is not without its flaws. While ‘martyrs’ is a powerful opening gambit – a searing mixture of energetic guitar work and guttural vocal brutality, the snatches of clean vocals do not bode well and ‘man-made disaster’, whilst offering up some great riffs, features the sort of dexterous switches into clean vocals that made metal-core so thoroughly annoying as a genre, whilst the lyrical message of the band, centred on positivity may also grate with some listeners, particularly when coupled with the symphonic samples which, unfortunately, are all-too-obviously the result of a synthesiser rather than a live choir. Yet that alone is not reason to write of betraying the martyrs. While they represent the rarer side of extreme metal, being a Christian band, it is neither fair nor necessary to attack the band for their beliefs unless you are equally willing to lambast typically satanic bands for the message they purvey, and for every irritating slide into clean vocal territory there are at least three awesome, pummelling riffs; and the guttural vocals are delivered with real gusto as ‘because of you’ ably demonstrates although once again the band can’t resist the temptation of the ever-present melody thus deconstructing all the hard work of the earlier stages of the song. ‘Tapestry of me’ is heavier and relies on some nimble-fingered guitar work and vocals which seem more committed than on previous tracks while the sinister riffing of ‘liberate me ex infernis’ is also most welcome even as the band attempt to escape from the very place most other extreme metal bands are gladly heading towards.
‘Leave it all behind’ follows on from the brief ‘liberate me’ with an almost soundtrack feel before suddenly turning up the temperature as Aaron lets fly with a barrage of guttural roars that stand at odds with the twee choruses of ‘man-made disaster’. Crushingly effective, it just goes to show that BTM are more than capable of kicking it when they choose to and it more effectively recalls the brutality of the EP right up until the point where they shoe-horn in another melodic chorus and the mood is shattered. ‘Life is precious’ picks up the slack with a great central riff and syncopated rhythms unfortunately augmented by yet more synth work although the vocals are much improved. ‘Love lost’ is also initially a belter with a great opening riff and frenetic drum work frittered away by a weak chorus before the band unleash the truly horrific ‘Azalee’ which makes even the sappiest Dream Theater ballad sound extreme. ‘When you’re alone’ redeems the situation somewhat and ends things on a high note, but there is the feeling that the band have stretched the formulae too thin on this, their first full length oouting, and you can’t help but feel they could have pushed substantially beyond the brutal verse/clean chorus approach given the strengths of the musicians involved.
Overall it is not BTM’s lyrical content or beliefs that play them false but a reliance on hackneyed structures that are repeated far too often across the album. True there are a number of brilliant moments and a handful of excellent tracks, but these are offset by the disappointing metal-core approach to the remainder of the tracks with the aggravating vocal approach so often undoing the hard work of the musicians. Given the quality of the EP, it’s not hard to crave a more constant whole. Nonetheless there is a strong band at the core of BTM and hopefully on album number two they will develop their sound to a far greater extent offering a more mature and individual approach to their song-writing.