MITHRIDATUM – Harrowing (2023)REVIEW

Though the details go largely unstated blackened dissonant death metal trio Mithridatum assumedly formed in the last three years or so and for the sake of illustrating what we can distill down to the trauma of unwilling sentience, the desensitization which necessarily mounts upon human beings in response to their unlucky spawn into an age of overpopulation, competitive exploitation and encroaching environmental nullity. Their debut release, ‘Harrowing‘, fosters long-standing interest in organische dissonant death metal with pronounced influence from prominent black metal technicians to a point of exacting potency, setting just five mid-length pieces as deeply finessed study of surreal existential dread. Though this relatively short and baleful release speaks a familiar language the greater outcome manages an exemplar listening experience, a luxurious point of immersion which stops well short of drowning the listener in its mulling tides.

Though a couple of these folks participated in the peak years of The Faceless‘ popularity their own work since the mid-2000’s or so has included dissonance-tinged brutality in Abhorrent (‘Intransigence‘ is yet underrated for what it is) and guitarist Marlon Friday‘s side-project Voidspawn who’d likewise worked “dissonance” into a different form of death metal, leaning towards Immolation-esque death/doom at times. I’ve made a point of briefly mentioning this as both the only available direct precedence for what we find on ‘Harrowing‘ and also to distract the first impression associations available to Mithridatum away from the less redeeming and unrelated tech-deathcore space. It’ll be worth picking through the aforementioned bands 2015 and 2016 releases and parsing how the key songwriters’ (mostly Lyle Cooper’s) approach has evolved in voice since.

As a short yet well-concentrated introductory event ‘Harrowing‘ reads as the result of a few years of mulled-over ideas selected for their holistic effect, per the title itself. Approached and palmed as a monolith, first contact yields profound if not somewhat familiar development of modern blackened death metal permutations focused on technically sound guitar and drum work emphasizing fluid textural forms. The finesse inherent to Mithridatum‘s craft is most immediately evident as the main rhythm guitar thread of “Mournful Glow” fully registers, indicating itself as one of the more transcendent exercises of the lot with a brilliant groove striking around ~4:18 minutes in. It’ll likely be the piece to best catch the ear of Ulcerate enjoyers among us and cause a bit of foaming at the mouth. Guitar techniques emphasized throughout the full listen otherwise tend toward the more aggressive side of ‘Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum‘, or, apply similar mannerisms developed since but these folks set their action up in a far more linear fashion, comparatively “standard” song structures which make for easy retention.

There are so many things these folks do well to as accomplished, certainly highly capable musicians needling away at the intricacies of each piece yet ‘Harrowing‘ resonates strongest within the more directive notions explored, their bigger death metal riffs, which arrive bearing some sort of statement in mind beyond the gloomy veil their constant open string dissonant chord wrangling. For my own taste “Lower Power” makes the core argument for this exploration of guitar texture and implied tonality beyond the default forlorn state of mind, winding up the clockwork hurl of the piece before dipping into a Flourishing-esque gust of directional advance which finds a groovier tech-death adjacent shove around ~1:49 minutes in. This simultaneously reveals the boon and the bane of the listening experience wherein the somewhat typical palette of technique serves certain moments their key juxtaposition, droning a bit while also emphasizing certain points of lucidity as they stack onto the framing of these 6-7 minute pieces. The effect is a heady tunnel vision, an introspective atmospheric oppression which fogs over the full listen as it variously hurls and smokes past at just ~28 minutes in length and ultimately feels more like an mLP rather than a full-length. Nonetheless each side of the album has its highlights and the passage from Side A through Side B is sensical, eventful and without any true folly.

Harrowing‘ does admittedly feel tentative upon first impression, a brief but deeply plunged dip into ideas which soon reveal themselves as gorgeously fleshed. This small revelation works because the wind-up time for ingratiating moments is short and the record proves itself repeatable and immersive from the start. Though I couldn’t consider Mithridatum‘s debut as substantial, or, complete in a more traditional sense it does ultimately read as an ideal debut presentation which impresses without overstating the core action of its premise. In plainest terms, it is a cool record which had me ripping through full listens fairly often thanks to a few standout moments. As a small final side-note, I am not a hundred percent sure if the album artwork was generated by artificial intelligence but it has some general hallmarks of this and I’d felt it detracted from the overall presentation. A high recommendation.

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