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Artist: Mare

Album: Mare

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Jan. 11, 2005

Mare is the name of a somewhat mysterious group from Toronto (they contain no personnel information in the notes to their powerful debut). Their core instrumentation seems to be that of a standard rock combo: guitars, bass, drums, vocals. And they do indeed play it heavy with shredding distortion and monster riffs on many occasions. But on some tracks they also add wind and acoustic string instruments to the mix, not in a kind of desperate attempt to convey grandeur or seriousness, but in a really deft synthesis of chamber moodiness with the possible revelations of the truly heavy. The group sound is centered around the mercurial vocal personality of Tyler Semrick-Palmateer, best-known for his contribution to the debut album by the insanely complex metal outfit The End. But though Mare possesses plenty of the quick-change shifts of mood, tempo and dynamics that one might expect from that connection, they generally express them in a slow, somber idiom that recalls Neurosis, Cult of Luna and Isis in its intensity.

The band's demo found its way to Hydrahead HQ, whereupon it was promptly re-released in this EP form. Mare makes their way through five provocative tracks, oscillating between taut, razor-sharp guitar twang and elephantine bass and drums, stirringly moving between choked howls and lonely melancholic cries. The EP brims with a real sense of development, texture and drama. On “They Sent You” in particular, Semrick-Palmateer creates tension as the piece opens with an almost madrigal feeling, its slowly ascending progression finally giving way to a crunching circular riff and a blistering distorted refrain. The occasional chamber construction, the odd insertion of jazz-like strumming and pulse, the frequent moments of introspection (often in the form of sumptuous vocal multitracking) that bring respite from the purposeful din; all these things make Mare compelling.

The band I kept thinking of was Kayo Dot, similarly wondrous in their efforts to merge metal with chamber music, but Mare has a sound which is harsher and bleaker. Doom-laden dirges and trunk-shaking riffs might not be the entirety of the group’s sound, but the frequently claustrophobic intensity, the sheer emotional weight of this stuff (though I have no idea what they’re singing about) is what lingers. A really heavy wallop.

By Jason Bivins

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