Thursday, December 28, 2017

Mortum - Eheieh Chaos

Mortum were one of those bands that seemingly inaugurated this decade's black metal scene in New Jersey with their widely distributed first demo in 2010 and album in 2011. Both formative efforts were still, for the time, a step above in refinement. Other than Immolith, Mortum somewhat solidified the upper tier of underground black metal at the time with established acts like Krieg and Abazagorath sitting on their thrones. Haethen were fairly popular south in the Philadelphia region but never really seemed to entice further north in the state. I still feel they were on a different level altogether on both a local and national level. I digress. What was noticeable on Beyond Which Darkness Holds Secret and Rites of Depopulation was a gift for melodic movement. Six years later, that penchant is still strong, and a decisive turn away from the common harsh and abrasive sound I associate with the Northeast places them in a smaller and unique niche of bands who have decided to fully embrace the Eastern European sound of bands like Graveland, Arkona, Hate Forest/Drudkh, and Astrofaes.

First listens of the album prioritize my ears directly to the guitar melodies which carry the brunt of the power on the album. The lack of bass in the mix was initially noticeable until my ears acclimated, after which I was able to hone in on them. They could have been more pronounced and defined. The guitars, tonally I consider "politely raw," with a softer hazy element that smooths out an underlying sandiness and rigid texture. The guitars aren't merely the main melodic element but the only melodic element with the bass so under represented in the mix. This stripped down arrangement puts all focus on the emotions in the melodies and performance of the vocals and drums. Drums drive the album forward but do little to stand out, taking a utilitarian role opposed to an artistic role on the album. Ominous' vocals are in the higher black metal range and adequately add the necessary narrative layer to the mix but also don't particularly add much character.

The pacing presents an album with all intentions to be epic and grand with a solemn chanted genesis leading into the remainder of the first track, "Scourge of Suffering". The opening and "As Cold Winds Blow Amidst Winter Dust" proudly escalate through a bevy of standard black metal tremolo strummed riffs. "Occult Redemption" is darker, moodier, and more elemental. After these tracks we get highlights in the powerful and enchanting "An Elegiac Hymn To Death" and the immediacy of "Shadows of a Forgotten Past." They form a perimeter around the throwback "Black Sickle" (see next paragraph). Closing is "Pitch Black Waters," which fades into the common culminating tendency to have the introduction and epitaph mirror each other.

"Black Sickle" is likely to obtain it's own admirers as the album's catchiest and most nostalgic sounding track, but I'm not as big a fan of it as I am some of the more simplified tracks on the record. Immediately we are transplanted from Mortum's own grey-scale world of pride, reverence, and solitude into the more frantic escapism of Drudkh's Forgotten Legends. The track is too close in essence to something which Eheieh Chaos draws from instead of the wells and springs of influence which the rest of the album drowns in. "An Elegiac Hymn To Death" does this much better, drawing out seven minutes of smartly progressing chords in a tense melody that is sturdy enough to merit the risk of repetition and still draws comparisons to the Kharkiv scene.

Mortum's faults here are slight, and have to do with the lack of bass and some monotony with the drumming. These aspects might prevent listeners from appreciating the emotion and imagery which the entirety presents. The back of the case states that the album was recorded "in various locations" but I wasn't able to fully discern any major tonal differences so likely the drums and guitars were recorded somewhere separately for logistic reasons. The liner notes in the case present some heady poetic lyrics which I would have cared to see more of in the layout for a more complete experience. This is very traditional black metal for dark solitary nights, even if it is common fare in many respects.

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