MORTIFY – Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow (2022)REVIEW

Warned repeatedly of glaring red-eyed horrors arisen from clay and the outré-mental outbreaks of anyone caught wandering beyond known borders, we press on into the strangest tides of wingless night-thoughts with a drop of azoth in each eye. If madness can be perceived solely as a vision of Hell, or the dead dreams of the most potent ancient ones, then we are graced with the finest spiritual awakening available to the insane in view of Concepción, Chile-based death metal band Mortify‘s second full-length album, wherein the mystère of the fringes of the mind furl and shake upwards menacingly in between transcendental planar drifting yearn. ‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘ is a leap unholy unto the quartet’s fullest-yet realization of their progressive death metal soul’d brutality, rooted in best of die-hard death metal traditions we can hope for nowadays — generating their own voice using the old, dead ways.

Either Mortify are wise beyond their years, or they’re smart enough to know the highest standards of death metal exist crystalline within the grandest, eldest rotting libraries of the sub-genre. I say this because all of their discography to date has collected insight from the best of mid-to-late 80’s death metal all the way up ’til the early 90’s, skulking within range of classic death/thrash movement soon after making the transition from their pure thrash metal adventure in Socialisis unto rabid pure underground death metal. As we step from their first demo (‘Sadistic Carnage‘, 2013) and follow-up EP (‘Cryptic‘, 2015) their love for progressive/technical thrash begins to creep into their use of extended runs, or, perhaps a sort of side-effect of appreciating ‘Spiritual Healing‘-era Death and some of the earlier progressive death metal spheres discovered nearby.

Despite it being a fairly modest production and a limited South American release to start there’ll be no good explanation as to why Mortify‘s ‘Mortuary Remains‘ slipped under my radar in 2017, needless to say it was a fantastically raw progressive-lite death metal album when Hellavenger recommended it to me in 2018, prompting a short review. Though I’d still be thrilled if the quartet’s follow up to that debut was plain iteration, they could make that record ten times and I’d still enjoy each version; They’ve instead opted to push the limits of their interest in ‘old school’ progressive death metal movements with a ‘bigger and better’ approach — A moody idea-overflowing feat and an experience that stretches the extremes of their sound without losing the violence of -real- death metal in the process. This means more than polished production values and a bit more proggy, atmospheric breaks in their songs, but a boon to the entire conceptual being that quickly becomes outsized and terrifyingly experiential.

Classic progressive death metal is an arbitrary distinction and might be more fittingly titled ‘cult’ prog-death for the sake of it’s rare form and belayed public appreciation en masse ’til at least the mid-90’s, but this is the exact right headspace to approach the imaginative yet unmerciful loft and lilt of ‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘. Characteristically convoluted riffing and prog-rock/jazz fusion voiced rhythm sections have their own traditions, usually amounting to early Atheist without the THC-stained warrior freneticism, but isolating what separates an ‘old school’ progressive death metal modus from the norm is a matter of feeling, a sort of dog whistle you’ll recognize in brief pockets of inspiration well beyond the 1990’s. We all have our favorites that’d developed immediately within that fallout from Florida death metal’s spearheading this ‘thinking man’s’ alternative to skullduggery and honestly most of them simply sound like Death. You’ll get hints of both traditions in Mortify‘s guitar phrasing yet there are some obvious gems to pluck from this phenomenon of ambition who fit a similar ‘shade apart’ level of insight such as the peak developments of Germany’s Atrocity between ‘Hallucinations‘ and their celebrated ‘Todenssehnsucht‘, the brutal Morrisound-recorded melodic preamble of Loudblast‘s ‘Disincarnate‘ toward their soon characterizing release ‘Sublime Dementia‘. We can additionally hone in on Mortify‘s heavier hits otherwise between nods to the movement of early Pestilence and Edge of Sanity, the hard-kicked yet sophisticated arrangements of Gorefest‘s underrated second record ‘False‘ and the kinetic quick-change motions that’d made each of the first two Mercyless records such a thrill. Folks attuned to still-hidden classics should expect to find similar glints of the golden aged cult’s vague resonance in certain records from Ghastly and Cadaveric Fumes, too, but the spells of ‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘ are cast with a slightly more brutal, blunted ‘old school’ death metal blade which sits well next to the most recent record from labelmates Question.

Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘ is divided into three movements, stages of mental dissolution that begin by leaning into the dark side of the ‘self’, becoming overwhelmed with cursed insanity, and eventually landing in an Eldritch realm of transcendental envision. The three stages, or acts as I see it, are arranged into three groups of four songs where each set of three ~4-6 minute pieces is followed up with a short ~two minute instrumental. These movements aren’t so much related in direct arrangement beyond their relatively similar voicing and this is where some of that ‘old school’ feeling comes from beyond the production values at hand; Mortify manage an album comprised of tonally frayed and otherwise standalone songs, showcases for malicious movements, curveballs and abrupt changes of tone which help to secure an old, rotten and horizonless plane for their feats. There’ll be no more worrisome vampire for my own taste than this level of compositional intensity in death metal, a well-trained knack for inserting “too many” exaggerative ideas into piece that somehow finds sensical movement, breathing room enough for grooves to develop and riff ideas to reach stages of arrival, elevation and descent. Expect a long and involved death metal album that demands the tunnel-vision of the artist is shared with the listener. Though it’ll arrive slow, the thorns of the experience involve a sort of entrenched and miserable mood, which hangs thicker over certain pieces as a general theme, dominating the fifty or so minute run of the full listen.

You’ll fully understand why referencing specific ’90-’92 death metal suggested earlier, which I don’t need to repeat here, makes sense when rolling into the impressive stampede of opener “Beneath the Emptiness”, a strike right at ribcage of classic death metal’s irrepressible ex-thrasher rhythmic ingenuity and tensile movement. Needless to say I’d been impressed right out of the gate and I don’t doubt Mortify‘s curse will openly strike anyone of similar temperament within less than a minute of said kick off. The thing to keep in mind is that there is much more of a journey ahead and if you’re short on attention span the full listen will likely be far more involved than expected as elaborate and easier-paced pieces like “In the Amorphous Path” find a more modern dynamic in terms of their greater tempo map. Rather than becoming more convoluted, er, technical in presentation most of the experience elaborates upon the possibilities the opening set of four songs suggest. The six minute instrumental “Mindloss” is set at the very crux of the full listen, implying the importance of its statement as the piece that sets us most in the wilds of their vision as the biggest transitionally evocative moment on the full listen as we move from torment unto diabolic madness. The sort of progressive peak of Mortify‘s efforts on ‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘ arguably comes a few steps beyond this point, deepest into its second half with “Astral Sphere from a Bleeding Soul” holding back the least within its energetic shocks of rhythmic progressions. Although we know this riff language well-enough at this point in the tracklist they’ve still left some of their most engaging riffcraft for the last third of the album.

Of course I could split hairs, pick out my favorite basslines, and name six more fantastic songs on this fine album ad nauseam but I’d rather folks in the know discover Mortify‘s sojourn for the skull-oppressive yet loose-shouldered set that it is. I couldn’t see myself complaining about a couple familiar riffs, obvious influences, or even the length of ‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘ simply because they’ve made such an exemplar listening experience of it all. I’d found myself listening to this record daily for about a month before wearing it out with multiple listens per day for roughly a week, appreciating the album at peak familiarity/immersion while still finding its rhythmic thread challenging, disturbed and familiar in the best way. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow
LABEL(S):Chaos Records
RELEASE DATE:March 25th, 2022

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