Not many people in Britain have heard of Madrugada, one of Norway’s most popular bands, which is a real shame, especially as they may never get their deserved breakthrough after the tragic death of lead-guitarist Robert Burås midway through last year. Formed in Stokmarknes in 1995, Madrugada (Spanish for ‘daybreak’) have released five studio albums to date, from their debut Industrial Silence (still their best work) up to their recent self-titled effort, recorded with Burås but released posthumously. The circumstances of the guitarist’s death have not been divulged, but he is a big loss to the band, contributing irreplaceably to the distinctive Madrugada sound; part The Stooges, part R.E.M, with a whiff of rock ‘n’ roll, a sip of blues, a heady dose of Ennio Morricone, a splash of David Lynch. Despite this enticing sonic palette the number one reason to seek out the wonderful sounds of this band, however, is skinny singer Sivert Høyem’s breathtaking voice. Imagine if Michael Stipe’s every syllable turned your legs to jelly and sent a shiver down your spine, if Leonard Cohen could hit every note in the spectrum with unwavering perfection and ease, if Antony didn’t wish he was a woman. Høyem’s voice is one of the most stunning in music today, one minute disdainful sneer, the next grunge growl, and then, most importantly soft, low and impossibly beautiful.
Madrugada attempted an Anglo-American breakthrough with 2002’s Grit, but despite overwhelmingly positive critical reaction they never had much of a popular impact, and subsequent releases have concentrated on already conquered territory. That album’s ‘Majesty’ provided the band with one of their best moments; a soaring ballad that manages the tricky balancing act of being heartrendingly beautiful but not at all sentimental: