Madrugada - The Nightly Disease
Musically, in the UK at least, Norway is predominantly known for one thing - "nul points". Yes, Norway has scored more zero pointers at the Eurovision Song Contest than any other participating nation. I wonder if that is the reason why so many of the bands who come out of Norway and are otherwise unconnected with the Eurovision Song Contest, portray images dark, foreboding and generally miserable. Norway might have a reputation among many these days for producing black metal outfits, but where does all this leave a band like Madrugada? This may be indie rock, but it is also dark and foreboding. Perhaps it is the weather and the long, cold, dark nights,
In truth, The Nightly Disease is a difficult album to enjoy. For a start, the musical influences from which the band draws are so many and so varied that Madrugada can come across as a band in desperate search of an identity. Listen closely and you will hear (and these are just the ones I can pick out) Nick Cave, Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, the Stooges, Sonic Youth as well as languorous, silken jazz and teenage longhairs from Oslo preparing for the next bout of Satanic metal mania church-burning. All of this makes for an interesting roller-coaster ride, but then some roller-coasters are not there to be enjoyed. This may not be metal, but it is pretty black at times.
The single most noticeable feature is the voice of lead vocalist Sivert Høyer. He has a rich, deep voice, very reminiscent of Nick Cave, which provides the mainstay of most of the tracks and has been produced to be very much to the fore. On the opener, "Black Mambo", his style compliments the jazz feel to the track while on "Step into the Room and Dance for Me" he gets the deadpan melancholy just right. A pity then he spoils it by mumbling his way through "Lucy One" and trying to scream his way through the title track. His is a dark and sombre voice, and the more he strays away from thr territory which most suits him, the less successful the sound that Madrugada are trying to create.
The overall purpose of the band seems to have been to create an album which had a sense of atmosphere. Indeed, the drive to achieve that quality permeates throughout the whole of the album, alongside Høyer’s voice, and using it as the principal vehicle to reach the intention. And not just any atmosphere, no Madrugada aim for that brooding and melancholy atmosphere which typified bands such as Joy Division and the Cure.
In that sense, the way the album is structured and comes across has a direct effect on the listener. The Nightly Disease waits for you to come to it for Madrugada are damned if they are going to reach out to you. They are too proud for that. It takes more than a few listens to beging to appreciate the more positive qualities of the album, and I am pretty sure more than a few people have given up in the process. The songs are generally a little too long and the album as a whole does feel like an endurance test, clocking in at well over an hour.
The album gets marks for style and a few less for substance. Where it falls down is on its accessibility. This is just not an album to put on and relax to. It challenges you to listen to it, lulls you into a false sense of what it is about and then disrupts you. It is an album to be listened to in pieces, not in one go. It is too much like hard work to take it all in at once.
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