MORTUOUS – Upon Desolation (2022)REVIEW

At this point in modern ‘old school’-leaning death metal spheres it would make sense to begin to either find new terms for various classicist intentions (influence, inspiration, recreation, “worship”) or purposefully lose sight of all but the most generalist notion of generational waves beyond the mid-to-late 80’s point of advent as we otherwise only find detailed in black metal en masse. I say this because a band like San Jose, California-based death metal quartet Mortuous are certainly educated and informed by their passion for classic death metal sounds of the early 90’s but they are not a retro-revivalist group per se. In fact this second album from the troupe, ‘Upon Desolation‘, appears eager to change the dulling conversation away from their clear appreciation for Autopsy and Incantation as limiting seminal forms of tone and temperament towards what potential they can manifest through abstraction, experimentation, and generally taking a step into their own taste beyond the obvious. These are folks who’re interested in much more than the pure and plainest death metal feedbag and this is well reflected within the most interesting parts of their second full-length. We arrive within their burning world only to find ’em dipping limbs into various portals of interest outside of the ‘old school’ bubble and, subtle as this shift appears at a glance, the suggestion is that there may very well be more to Mortuous than an undying appreciation for the old guard.

To be fair they were already finding some great success in feeling their own way through the halls of madness even before their debut LP (‘Through Wilderness‘, 2018) landed in doomed, twisted and refined form. Consider it the apex of what guitarist/vocalist Colin Tarvin (Socioclast, Evulse) had been working on with members/ex-members of Exhumed since the early 2010’s, and otherwise an album which I’d enjoyed quite a bit. I don’t know how much it’d felt like a pillar of achievement for the band back in 2018 but it certainly read as more than just another ‘new old school’ death metal project at that point. From then on the band’ve spent their plague years putting out what I’d consider interstitial releases, splits with Scolex and Deform alongside a demo compilation, but none of this’d given any major hint as to where Mortuous were going next.

Truth be told ‘Upon Desolation‘ doesn’t give us much of a hint up front, either. “Carve” kicks off the album with a few straightforward riffs, a solid whip of speed and a strong feature of their bass guitar tone as the verse rhythms lean into their doomed Finnish/North American death metal influenced craft and we’re pretty much right back where we left off with ‘Through Wilderness‘. There is a rushed, weighty sort of Immolation-esque note struck mid-song which finally gives us our hint that Mortuous intend to expand in all directions but they’ve upped the aggression by way of tighter-woven pieces which grind out a much higher riffs per minute thread per song. The opener doesn’t smoke the eyebrows off my skull but it does have us speaking the referential language of classicist death metal up front, priming us for where things’ll go next.

Our wasteland, their empire. — In fact “Nothing” is probably going to sound like a total 180° turn to anyone approaching the album with a lax, or casual spin up front as these folks take an unexpected turn with the general ‘Here in After‘ meets ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ vibe they’ve presented up front as we hit the ~2:47 minute mark as violins from Andrea Morgan (Exulansis) signal an impressive tonal shift into dreary death/doom metal territory, screaming wah-pedal solo trade-off and all. It’d hit me as a sort of “What the fuck just happened” kind of moment to start as Mortuous pushed back and forth into this mode for the rest of the song but it’d definitely woken me up to the level of craft applied to each of these songs and the way they’ve faceted the album with several of these switcheroo moments, which feel like trap doors into other worlds (see also: “Metamorphosis“). This seems to be the best way to ease into the expansion of their sound without interrupting the flood of riff ideas in mind. Side A closer “Days of Grey” assures us that these guys are still a thousand percent a riff-obssessed traditional death metal band by way of a pretty standard five minute piece, not the most exciting send-off for the first half but a steeling moment which only adds to the character of the record, which is already far more brutal in pace and punish than its predecessor.

We reach what I’d consider Drawn and Quartered levels of brutal fury as Side B kicks off with two of the fastest, most straight forward aggressors on the record, “Burning Still…” touching upon something a bit more Adramelech-esque and in the process serving what’d become one of my favorite cuts on the album. The only real notes I’d taken for this section of the record centered around the natural integration of leads/solos into these songs, a sort of tactful placement which can only come from a band whom either practices together or tours often enough, the performative sense built up for when to flare up and when to shut down. Otherwise it’d be fair to say that the second half of the album finds Mortuous in a groove in terms of riffs and ready to insert another surrealistic extreme doom metal moment within “Ash and Dismay”, successfully landing this ebb between periods of fiery angered torment and surrealistic introspection. I’d especially liked the use of what sounded like a piano accompanying the closing riffs of the song, really catching my ear on each listen and leaving me wanting more of that. Brief as those moments which take a step outside of the furor are on the full listen each one indicates creative avenues worth pursuing, windows into other worlds eager to be illustrated, which add to the memorability of ‘Upon Desolation‘.

We couldn’t consider ‘Upon Desolation‘ a death/doom metal album in full but one which does more than flirt with potent and well-considered bouts of it for very brief yet memorable interruptions ’til we eventually land upon the curious splay of the final frozen circle of Hell with “Graveyard Rain“, the first single from the record and its logical conclusion of events. In this sense those who’d followed the reveal of the album prior to release know how the events of ‘Upon Desolation‘ end in fiery, distressed funereal splendor yet they haven’t yet experienced the path taken.

As I’d considered the running order’s uneven start and the many reveals curiously held onto ’til later on in the record, I couldn’t necessarily say the tracklist lands as solidly as it could but whenever wheeling back to “Carve” it made more sense that the experience was ordered to get the best result in terms of replay value, a most satisfying loop. The full listen built fealty quickly, generally kept me on my toes for several spins, and still manages to impress with its tightly-packed runs of riff and ruin whenever taking a lens to the details. A few songs hit a point of frantic attack which reads a bit riff-salad but as familiarity with the overall weirding groove of this album was granted, those moments only characterized Mortuous‘ own style a bit more. From a most objective point of view this probably isn’t yet a band for people who’re looking for the new what’s next, chasing trends or breaking the mold etc. I’d primarily recommend ‘Upon Desolation‘ to classic/early 90’s death heads first and foremost. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Upon Desolation
LABEL(S):Carbonized Records
RELEASE DATE:September 16th, 2022

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.