Primitive by design and all the more memorable for that ingrained directness the ‘old school’ death metal of prolific Ithaca, New York quartet Mutilate bring the creeping rage of 80’s death metal demo evil and punches it up to a ’91 standard of fidelity. Subtle in movement but brash in delivery their second full-length in three years, ‘Contagium’, continues to explore a unique set of shared pillars of influence from Abhorrence and Paradise Lost to the punched-out eyes of Hellhammer worshipers like Usurper and Goatlord. Little has changed in the grand scheme of their unassuming minimalist approach to performance and production but a hint of blackened-death influence now arrives in subtle, ambiguous bursts. These intermittent and slight changes leave bare-naked the intentions of ‘Contagium’, and Mutilate in general, as a subtle but hard-grooving mid-paced death metal act that grows on the mind like moss on distended tomb.
Mutilate‘s debut full-length ‘Tormentium’ (2018) released nearly a full year ago and though it would more-or-less knock my own socks off with references to Acheron, Death Strike, and pre-’93 Midwest United States death metal in general it didn’t appear to make enormous waves across the board. I’m somewhat sour about that because it was almost terminally catchy and had a satisfying rawness that was never stupidly brutal and almost always some kind of clever. ‘Contagium’ is a follow-up in every sense as you can tell it is still Hans Kristianson holding the guitar and largely providing the direction and main interest. This time around the ‘hooks’ come subtle and slow as often as they do abruptly depending on the song, this reads as a small bit of inconsistency that gets lost in too-similar rhythm and pacing.
The biggest standouts within a full listen to ‘Contagium’ bring very plain choruses that often plainly state the title of the song (“Vile and Disgusting”, “Eyes of a Child”) and this often feels like an early Paul Speckmann influence in motion and a relic of extreme thrash songwriting. Where I fall off their boat a bit this time around comes with the realization that there are no unforgettable “Hacked Up Hands” moments up front. More than ever I began to think of Slaughter, perhaps with a different focus of pace, as I listened to ‘Contagium’ but there are a few moments where a second guitar provides a lead or counter-melody that invokes death/doom classics, primarily ‘Lost Paradise’. Those elements of primitive Celtic Frost-esque jogging and slapping death metal mildly coalesce as the album plays. Although this provides some of the most memorable moments on the album, such as the middle portion of “Eyes of a Child”, a few breaks in “Quartered”, and the brilliant title track the majority of the record is otherwise tedious at first glance.
The first time I fired up ‘Contagium’ I was walking my dog near a park where I live in downtown Seattle and in the midst of waiting for him to poop “Quartered” came on, did its thing and finished with this mouth slurping Donald Duck-assed eating noise like Nibbler from Futurama and for a second there I nearly said “Fuck this album” out loud. The drumming is the plainest of jane, the riffs come fast but the nuance is often very subtle and it sounds like a non-Satanic Nunslaughter demo trying to get serious with 90’s death metal. So, as I had that severe allergic reaction to the mouth noise I realized how cool that reductive ‘insult’ had actually sounded as a description. Sure, it is a little bit meat-headed and snaggle-toothed but I’ll be damned if that isn’t what I love about records like ‘Journey Into Mystery’, ‘Zzooouhh’, and anything from Cianide. Its all very metal and not such damned serious art. I was probably 4-5 listens in when I’d really latched onto the middle portion of the album starting with “Eyes of a Child” and “Black Fate” showing classic Mutilate with some new slightly more blackened ethos. The mushy thrash metal groove of “Skeletal Haunting” is another weird highlight as it should just be an amateurish mess but there is something vitally repeatable about this track and its strangely eager pace leading towards the death/doom lurch of the final song. The overall listening experience appreciated over time and I’d eventually come to enjoy the differently dulled charm of ‘Contagium’.
There’s almost no way a fan of ‘Tormentium’ isn’t going to like the scuzzy rip of ‘Contagium’ at face value. Mutilate have slicked their sound up just enough to make their more rabidly mid-paced and blackened touches succeed amongst increasing bouts of repetition, darker doom, and a generally cleaner execution. It isn’t a better record but, a different record that is equally as good as the last thanks to a small list of evolving traits. Moderately high recommendation, a bit higher if you’re already on board with the band’s dry-humped ways. For preview I’d suggest starting with “No Faith” for the faster pace and simple-but-effective guitar runs then move onto the pairing of “Eyes of a Child” and “Decapitator”. The full spin will roll out easily from that point.
Await the immortal reaper. 4.0/5.0
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