Friday, January 15, 2016

Mortalicum - Eyes Of The Demon

Finding consistent output from a band after four or five albums is like finding a diamond in a mountain of salt. The determination of what consistency really means, however, is different for everyone. Based on this year's best of lists, some people still think Slayer puts out albums worth a spot among the best of the year - whatever that means - but one band that is currently putting out content in a fashion similar to the consistency of say, late 70's - early 80's Judas Priest or 80's Manilla Road (or all Manilla Road) has been Sweden's Mortalicum. Their previous three albums have all been really powerful and memorable albums. 2010's  Progress of Doom, their debut, was a Heavy Metal album with Dio-era Sabbath styling. 2012's The Endtime Prophecy saw a shift to a more traditional doom sound and defined their passionate and thoughtful songwriting leading to 2014's Tears From The Grave which continued in that style with more killer songwriting and near-iconic riffage appearing in songs like "I Dream of Dying", "The Endless Sacrifice," and "I Am Sin."

This year's Eyes of the Demon finally managed to reach my malleus and once again I find myself witness to yet another weighty, thoughtful recording following in the consistency of their previous albums. Eyes of the Demon is more relaxed than previous albums coming across as closer to Saint Vitus' more reflective Born Too Late than something like Pentagram. While the album channels a more upbeat riff style such as can be found on the later classic album, lyrically Patrick Backlund explores austere topics, especially in a song like "The Distant Brave," or "The Lost Art Of Living." Other songs are more inward. "Beneath The Oak," is classic in it's symbolism and subject matter. The album is slanted towards a more liberal perspective, especially viewed from the American political position, however never comes across as proselytizing and - as is the case with all art - could be construed any number of ways to different listeners. Mortalicum are never heavy handed and come across as inquisitive, gently offering a private experience for listeners if they want it. Think of how Accept's Blood of the Nations leans conservative, but you don't really take note of it. 

But for everyone else there is the excellent songwriting and riffs. We get this early on in the album with "Eyes of the Demon," which invokes Pentagram or a less noodly Pagan Altar in one of the album's highlight tracks, especially during the tense double timed bridge section. "Beneath the Oak" also exhibits masterful riff phrasing on top of which Henrik Hogl croons the idyllic vision of two lovers growing old together and reuniting in death. It's beautiful and paired with instrumental "Mars," allows some settling of the first half of songs. "The Dream Goes Ever On" reinvigorates the album's pacing after the slower "Lost Art of Living," with subtle wah-pedal melodies over massive chugging riffs that 'roll like thunder'. "The Distant Brave" is another album highlight track with a quick choppy main riff and subtle drum adjustments courtesy of Andreas Haggstrom. "Onward in Time" includes the album's longest song with two quality guitar solos which I would list as some of the best in the Mortalicum discography but neither really closing in on the magic of Tears From The Grave's magical "I Dream of Dying" solo section.

This is a strong album, worth it's weight in a valuable commodity. The songs are somewhat redundant at times, and some additional variation and some more riffs would have added more complexity. There are some stretches in songs where not a lot is happening to maintain my interest. There are probably some riffs and possibly entire songs here which didn't make the cut for Tears from the Grave or weren't ready yet. I wouldn't claim these are flaws, however. Eyes of the Demon is still quality doom metal of a high caliber. I originally described Mortalicum as having "the vibe of a hardworking garage band that plays local bars" but they've shaken this working class description off with their past two albums. The increasingly topical lyrics, longer songs, and polished tone portends future albums to be more 'thinking man' albums. The band definitely has the ability to make this transition seamless and successful. I'd like to see the band take two or three years after this to really write something that will be timeless. So far all of the band's albums have had at least three or four standout tracks so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will release one of those must own albums in the next few years which is front to back diamonds encrusted doom hymns.

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