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‘DEATH’ Review: Melanie Martinez’s Otherworldly Alt Rebirth

'DEATH' by Melanie Martinez was released on March 17
'DEATH' by Melanie Martinez was released on March 17 By Courtesy of Melanie Martinez / Atlantic Records
By Isabelle A. Lu, Contributing Writer

Four years after the release of her last full-length album, Melanie Martinez chants “I’m back from the dead” in her newest track “DEATH.” The lead single on her third album “PORTALS,” which is slated to be released on March 31, “DEATH” powerfully transports Martinez’s career-defining narratives and audio-visual aesthetics into a new era, although its lyrics and vocal tone don’t always match its rich instrumental storytelling.

First teased in an Instagram clip of a mushroom engraved with the phrase “RIP CRYBABY” — a reference to Martinez’s schoolgirl persona of past albums “Crybaby” and “K-12” — “DEATH” creates a perfect harmony between the album’s aesthetics of birth, dark foliage, and a pink alien-like persona. Shedding Martinez’s childhood influences, its lush variety of sounds establish an entirely new world that feels magical, extraterrestrial, and bold.

“DEATH” opens with a high-pitched mantra that could be the fetal voice of the pink creature — “Death is life, is death, is life, is death, is life, is” — and ends with sounds of running, enticing listeners into the rest of the album’s story. Floating strings underline the opening melody before an explosion of synth sound and heavy percussion. With the song’s emphasis on the concept of rebirth and Martinez’s love of narrative videos, it’s easy to visualize the creature growing slowly before bursting into life in the chorus. As synth-cushioned screams cut to ominous whispers, Martinez expertly weaves the ethereal, creepy, and hardcore.

Martinez’s lyrics enhance the reincarnation theme of “PORTALS” with fantastical and emotional juxtapositions. The self-descriptor “immortal by design” suggests a godly designer while empowering the singer with superhuman immortality, adding a Frankenstein-esque paradox to the creature’s existence. Meanwhile, Martinez sings of Death giving her “closure” while still feeling obsessively drawn to a former lover: “I’ll be meetin’ you here every time.” Sometimes, though, the lyrics dissolve into clunky phrases, like “I show my presence, you run away in fear of ghosts,” and “we all die one day.”

The electronic overlays on Martinez’s languid singing are also a weakness, feeling unnecessary and overdone at times. Evoking autotune, they overwhelm the parts of the song without instrumentals while minimizing her smooth, clear voice’s ability to carry its own weight when rough instrumentals enter.

Despite some flatness, the song’s pacing, sound, and narrative prove again that Martinez can craft an entire world out of an album, this time while successfully integrating a heavier rock sound. Every element of “DEATH” declares that Melanie Martinez has not just grown up, but metamorphosed.

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