Mongrel’s Cross – Psalter of the Royal Dragon Court (2018) REVIEW

In the iteration-thirsty, attention-deficit inducing world of extreme metal a span of six years is a literal lifetime for many bands. Few are able to remain adherent to their vision and partnerships beyond their first tour or release much less deal with the pressures of expectation; Exception is the rule as the realities of collaborative art and divergent musical direction seem to morph with constant releases and a need for relevancy. Brisbane, Australia based black metal heathen Mongrel’s Cross appeared on a crash course for their first three years, with their black/death/thrash countrymen as inspiration and classic heavy metal riffs kicking off in 2009. By 2012 they’d resolved in the form of a spearhead, callously piercing the underground with their debut full-length ‘The Sins of Aquarius’ and spend the next six years vexed in silence.

Formed from an ascension of beer swilling speed metal snarling and post-NWOBHM black metal rigging, Mongrel’s Cross were driven and capable from the start with their self-titled demo (2009) as proof. That demo is still the ‘exposed heart’ of the band’s approach and style, though their sound has evolved incredibly over nine years. They were received warmly between their EP ‘Whoresanna’ (2011) and first album but too often compared to compatriots Razor of Occam; Despite some similarities in production and sub-genres represented Mongrel’s Cross were less driven by the rhythms of thrash metal and had put their own unique spin on riffs influenced by epic heavy metal, early speed metal, and the blackening provided by mid-to-late 80’s Bathory. They surely belonged in mention alongside groups like Gospel of the Horns, Nocturnal Graves, and Deströyer 666 on an aesthetic level but not in anyone’s shadow.

‘The Sins of Aquarius’ was one of those albums where I was on board right away, couldn’t stop listening to it for months, yet as soon as I went online to tell other people to listen to it nobody gave a shit. There was a thread of something curious running through Mongrel’s Cross‘ sound that felt a bit like early Running Wild, a mad dash of the sort of punk that inspired early black metal, and intermittent stoic launches into the meandering grooves of Hellenic and Mediterranean black metal style. Blackened thrash metal that could never be pinned down into an average riff or stock standard moment. The six year gap and resulting sophomore full-length finds Mongrel’s Cross a duo seeking personal innovation and finding it through a massive, thorough refinement and extension beyond past work. It absolutely sounds like they took their time making every song as intentionally delivered as possible.

‘Psalter of the Royal Dragon Court’ is at it’s core an epic speed metal album that clenches the provocative rhythms of artists like Kawir and Ares Kingdom and molds them like plaster to further reinforce their already impressive sound with even more memorable structures. Projects like Grand Belial’s Key and later Varathron do something similar in approach but neither consistently evoke that same undercurrent of adoration for barrages of classic heavy metal riffs. Mongrel’s Cross have another shape, an epic spiral of grandiose guitar statement to regale you with at every turn and this translates into a golden altar stacked with riches of epic speed metal, second wave Hellenic black metal, and greater clarity of vision. More and more extreme metal projects are becoming deft with creating perfect mutants of ‘sound’ and ‘style’ but few have the ear for riffs and talent for well-paced songwriting that these Australians do. They’ve evolved beautifully thanks to taking their time with this album.

To really see eye-to-eye with what I’m getting at I think you’d need to hear “Derkesthai – Initiation (To See Clearly)”, a track on Side B of ‘Psalter of the Royal Dragon Court’ that hits upon a Varathron-esque groove (complete with nudges of keyboard work) yet knocks into a mid-80’s thrash riff and solo halfway through. It almost feels like a more evolved take on the pagan-thrashing stuff Deströyer 666 is doing now, but with less tunnel vision for the 80’s. Of course “Neurian Transformation” is the cleanest example of this new sound and amplified vision for Mongrel’s Cross as they combine nigh dark fantasy metal style with classic black metal sound; Likewise the Arghoslent-esque semi-melodic death push into “The Thirteenth Card” and it’s cosmic Kvist-like black metal riffing is a deeper-still example of this rebirth of the old ways. Keyboard integration throughout deepen the nods to classic Greek black metal as well as offer some extra variety amongst the relentless heavy metal riffing.

From the glorious cover art from french artist David Thiérrée to their masterfully needled to perfection stylistic evolution Mongrel’s Cross deliver a fantastic extreme metal experience with ‘Psalter of the Royal Dragon Court’. If you have little or no love for Australian satanic/occult speed metal, Hellenic black metal, and riffs then you’ll likely be less excited for it than I am. Though the long wait for a second album felt like a lifetime after ‘The Sins of Aquarius’ the results appear in the form of an album well worth the wait and packed with greater ambition achieved through as much work. Highly recommended.

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Artist Mongrel’s Cross
Type Album
Released August 3, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Hell’s Headbangers Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Mongrel’s Cross on Facebook
Genres
Black Metal,
Thrash Metal,
Death Metal

Horrors materialize at last. 4.5/5.0

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