Album: No Free World
To some, it’s as simple as turning to a dictionary—and it boils down to simply being able to do what you want, when you want. But those actions can often lead to the oppression and castigation of others—so while your freedom may have come at no cost to you, when you consider the effects of your actions on others, they weren’t truly free, were they? It might be dramatic to say that freedom is an illusion or it’s nothing but a construct of an oppressive system, but, sad to say, it might not be far from the truth—and at the very least, suffice it to say, what most consider to be free or freedom is anything but. Challenging the notion of what freedom truly is brings us to the opening seconds of death metal-turned-hardcore act Mara’s sophomore album, No Free World. Mara combine malicious, blood-pumping and fist-swinging aggression with riff-driven fury and stifling, incinerating energy characteristic of the band’s Northern Californian surroundings. No Free World is as brutal as it is immersive—and with tracks that drop from eerie, unsettling acoustic segments into skull-smashing breakdowns and skin-blistering riffs, No Free World has no problem keeping the listener hooked for its duration.
Mara are synonymous with power. Every aspect of No Free World is a display of absolute dominance—evidence of a band exerting the totality of their energy and aggression with what sounds like next to no effort. From the first ground-shaking salvo to the last ringing notes, Mara drench the listener in dissonance, carefully (yet catastrophically) combined with frantic speed. “A Place for Dark Souls” washes over the listener like a tidal wave of refuse, loaded with more grit and filth than ten barges of garbage—and things only get more dismal from there. Percussionist Jacob Koval hammers away—with some tracks channeling a more dissonant and dirging style of dark hardcore mixed with blackened death metal (see “Marked for Death” or “Rigor Mortis”), with others—especially the lead single and title track of the album—serving as displays of dizzying speed and devastating brutality. Here, Koval works hand-in-hand with bassist (and frontman) Elijah Martinez, who adds depth and punch to every track, giving the bands dissonant and eerie dynamic a solid foundation. Martinez ensures that even at their most audiolucent, Mara stay firmly anchored to the ground, providing a pummeling, oppressive low end to Koval’s already crushing percussion. All of this comes together, giving guitarists Chandler Crane and Travis Worland to steamroll the listener with over forty-five minutes of furious, fretboard-melting riffs. “Without Walls,” as well as the more monstrous and lengthy anthems “Rigor Mortis” and the acoustic portions of “Confinement” display the boundless diversity Crane and Worland have to bring to heavy music—and even while the two take turns shredding flesh with sinister, sharp riffs, they have more than enough opportunity to oppress the listener under ten-ton breakdowns and jarring slams. Skeptics need look no further than “Infectious Hate,” “Without Walls,” “A Place for Dark Souls” or “No Free World”–each track bringing at least one, if not many more, moments of murderous, magnificent brutality. The take-home point is one of great diversity and incredible talent—as everything Mara set out to achieve with No Free World they do with great ease and expertise.
In slight contrast to their instrumental variety, Mara’s vocal dynamic is slightly more straightforward. With each Martinez, Worland and Crane sharing vocal duties on No Free World, there is still plenty of diversity and energy to be found, even if the trio’s voices blend and meld well into one another’s. Martinez—the band’s principle vocalist—is as cantankerous as Mara’s musicianship, pushing through layer after layer of frantic dissonance with a focused, furious bloodlust that won’t stop until the listener is reduced to shreds. “Infectious Hate”–just as vicious as the track title would infer—is an excellent example, but frankly, listeners will be hooked from the first words of the lead single, “No Free World.” Martinez and company display nothing but devastating salvo after devastating salvo of grating, brash vocal attacks—with grisly mid-range yells reminiscent of early death metal and gritty grows and bellows that appeal to more traditional deathcore and hardcore enthusiasts both. “Confinement” sees Mara grow even more; starting the song with a subtle, serene acoustic segment that expands and morphs into a melodic death metal soundscape, complete with a guest female vocalist that is ever so slightly out of place, but in a strange, beautiful and soothing way. Mara maintain their engaging and eviscerating nature with their masterful vocal display—to a point where the lengthy segments of instrumental swelling and build-up may begin to feel empty to those who find themselves particularly lost in Martinez’s murky screams.
No Free World is the most frantic, furious forty-five minutes of the listener’s year; but within those forty five minutes, there is much more than just pissed off riffs and punishing breakdowns. Mara are masterfully diverse, never backing down from a new style or way to display their domineering penchant for either raw, ruthless death metal or devastating deathcore. Where, for 99% of No Free World, this is a positive, it isn’t without slight setbacks. “Confinement,” while gloriously different and tremendous in its own right, feels a little too out of place—just as the lengthier tracks do feel a little too long. Mara are best shown off in sinister, speedy and short displays of tactless aggression. While “Rigor Mortis” and “Marked for Death” are incredible songs, they still don’t quite hold their own against the otherwise incredible “No Free World,” “Infectious Hate” and “No One is Safe.” That said, No Free World is intelligent and intense, engaging and immersive from start to finish—making Mara and band fans of heavy music new and old can’t afford to miss.
For Fans Of: Wicked World, Daggers, Bruise, Meth Mouth
By: Connor Welsh