posted on 7/2011 By:
Mortualia’s first album is about as unmarketable as black metal gets, even by Moribund’s standards, which makes its re-release a somewhat surprising move. Everything about this album is going to bore most of the metal-listening world right out of their skulls, even many habitual black metal fans. It's very long, uniformly slow, all of the riffs sound the same, the production is rough, there’s only a handful of drumbeats used… and did I mention this album is really long?
Then again, this isn’t just another by-the-numbers black metal project either. Mortualia is the solo-endeavor of Finnish guitarist extraordinaire Shatraug, who has a hand in an obscene number of bands, but is most widely recognized for his work in long-running collective Horna and current Moribund juggernauts Sargeist (who, interestingly enough, also began as a Shatraug solo-project). And once the initial shock of Mortualia's simplicity and repetition wears off, Shatraug's pedigree becomes a little bit more evident while listening; this is actually pretty well-realized and well-composed music all around. It's just the opposite of listener-friendly in every sense, and therefore, those outside of the project’s targeted niche will find little of value.
Mortualia consists of five tracks running at a staggering seventy minutes, with bonus track “Death Serenity” (the only notable feature of this reissue) bringing the grand total to almost eighty. But don’t expect any sort of demanding or exhausting excursion in the vein of other marathon black metal bands like Darkspace, as this is an album meant more for quiet reflection and meditation than any kind of in-depth listening experience. For a black metal record, there’s remarkably little tremolo picking to be found, and no blast beats whatsoever. Many of the riffs are composed of sparse, melancholy progressions of notes, backed by glacially slow drumbeats and some surprisingly nimble and intuitive bass work. Topping things off are Shatraug’s piercing shrieks and screams, which echo in the background and actually do an effective job at lending a (somewhat) human feel to the massive, desolate soundscapes, although they remain fully entrenched in wounded-cat territory for the entirety of the disc.
But the individual ingredients are obviously not the primary focus of this project. Instead, Mortualia aims to provide the listener with a vast, barren world to roam around in, and it lives up to this focus quite well. Despite the unbearably slow crawl of all of the tracks, the riffs do a good job of maintaining interest with a strong balance of tragic melodies and ominous funereal chords, and the aforementioned bass-work lends some welcome depth to the guitar compositions. There are some issues with the production, namely a reedy guitar tone and an overly loud snare, but it becomes fairly easy to turn off your higher brain functions and just kind of float along with the songs once you get accustomed to the sound, which makes it ideal for background listening in a solitary environment. I also enjoyed this album’s emphasis on emotions over pure scenery and nature-worship. Despite what the lengthy running times or the mountainous cover art would have you believe, the music itself is much more in line with depressive black metal than the stately epic sweep of bands like Walknut or the ambient-infused output of Vinterriket, and the cold tone and mammoth sprawl of the instrumentation makes a great backdrop for the utter despair and anguish conveyed by the vocals.
Still, it's hard to imagine even the most patient and dedicated listeners devoting much time to Mortualia beyond the odd cursory listen every few months. There just isn’t that much here, and what there is has a lot of potential to get stale quickly. Considering the lengthy and repetitious nature of the tracks, more dynamic changes (however gradual) and more variety in the guitar work would've done wonders to make this a release with more staying power. As it stands, both of Mortulia’s subsequent full-lengths are better produced and generally more fully-realized albums than this debut, and listeners interested in this project would do better to start with either of those before looking backwards. But for existing fans curious to hear how this side-project got off the ground, or for the few of you out there with a serious nerd-crush for minimalist depressive black metal, Mortualia’s first album is definitely enjoyable and worthy of a purchase.
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