posted on 10/2004 By:
I’ve gotta be honest. Despite his pedigree, I’ve always avoided Mortiis’ work. The fact that Mortiis (his momma named him Haavard Elefson) was the early bassist for Emperor would normally be enough to grab my interest, but unfortunately I saw Mortiis before I heard Mortiis. You’ll remember his look if you’ve seen it before, but for the uninitiated: the guy wears this goofy goblin looking mask, with a big pointy nose and even bigger pointy ears. Now, if you’re a serious fan, maybe you know the whole story behind this getup and why it’s "so cool" (and it’s not). I can just tell you that when I’ve seen him, I’ve pointed and laughed and moved on to something else. And that’s too bad, because apparently I’ve missed out. Aside from one track from his last album, “The Smell of Rain”, this is the first work I’ve heard, and I gotta tell you, I’m pleasantly surprised.
I knew enough about this project not to expect black metal, but was surprised to hear work that is so lacking in metal in general. The Grudge is gothic industrial that owes more to bands like Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails than underground metal. And it owes those bands in a major way. The songs are mostly up-tempo and a mixture of slightly heavier, driving industrial and nearly dance inducing electronica. Where you’d dance to this is another question. Some kind of goblin rave party, perhaps? That seems to be a potential problem for the band. It would seem that they aren’t metal enough to be embraced by a large portion of the underground metal crowd, but have enough odd, gothic imagery to be dismissed by much of the industrial/electronica fans. On the other hand, Mortiis has been around for awhile, so the fans are clearly out there, regardless of whether or not the metal fans are his bread and butter.
“Broken Skin” is the opener and sets the tone for the album. It begins with an echoing keyboard line that is very reminiscent of Skinny Puppy, before adding layers of more programming and a thin but driving guitar line. Vocals are sung but have some effects. The lyrics are in English, which I don’t think has always been the case on prior releases. Overall the song has a touch of heavy bite while retaining plenty of hooks and a club-ready feel. The rollicking “Decadent and Desperate” and “Way Too Wicked” are the heaviest songs on the album, using much more prominent guitar work. Then there are the songs like “The Worst In Me” that use the same programming approach but incorporate less guitar and therefore seem less heavy, at least in conventional terms. Many of these tracks are clearly Trent Reznor worship, and while Mortiis isn’t the equal of the masterful Reznor, he still churns a pretty good beat. There are also some moments that seem to be a nod to David Bowie, and stranger still, there are a couple of brief passages that provide fleeting glimpses back to the very early days of electronic music by the new wave synth pop bands of the early 80’s. These moments are brief, but there. The album’s closer is a swirling ambient instrumental aptly named “Asthma.”
Not much metal to be found, but if you’re a fan of the moody, dark industrial work of Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy, “The Grudge” will serve as a respectable addition to your collection. Lord knows neither one of those other bands are offering you new albums these days. Now if we can just get him to lose that mask…
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