Death/doom outfit Mortuous just released their gruesome debut full-length Through Wilderness on July 22nd. The release is packed to the brim with doomy riffs, gritty production, fitting vocals, and even a vocal cameo from legendary Autopsy vocalist Chris Reifert – the group undoubtedly went all-out with their splash into the scene.
Mortuous hails from the Californian bay area death metal scene that has seen a consistently-solid output of releases as of recent. Bands like Ripped to Shreds, Phalanx, and many others from mainly Los Angeles and San Jose populate the region’s arid underground, putting out disgustingly-good death metal at an alarming rate. While rival groups tend to play a more old-school and chunky style of music, Mortuous opts in for more of a death/doom sound, except they put a lot of emphasis on the death and less of the doom.
The sound on Through Wilderness is best described as a fluid mix of the gloom on Autopsy’s Severed Survival and the technical speed of Death’s first two albums. This forefather comparison is highly fitting, as Mortuous guitarist/vocalist Mike Beams used to play for Exhumed, an older death/grind band founded in the early ‘90s, and as mentioned above, Through Wilderness features a guest vocal appearance from Chris Reifert, long-time Autopsy singer.
While the group certainly shows a public display of their roots and homage to the genre’s pioneers, they implement a fresh sound by offering variety to the release. Through Wilderness features three distinct vocal styles – a straightforward death metal growl, a lower and more drowned vocal approach found on tracks like “Bitterness” and “The Dead Yet Dream”, and finally Chris Reifert’s offerings on tracks 4 and 5. Furthermore, the pace of the record finds itself constantly along a continuum between crushingly gloomy and delightfully fast. The lead guitar work is also phenomenal, which will be discussed further below. Let’s dive in and discuss some of the release’s most prominent songs.
This opening track is an absolutely fittingly crushing introduction to the record that follows. While being a fairly standard track when looking at the encompassing vibe of the entire release, it nonetheless shines both in quality and experimentation. “Beyond Flesh” is a collection of solid riffs, drum beats, and vocal performances that’s overall quality is indicative of the rest of the album.
The song concludes with a wailing, almost screaming guitar solo. I adore solos that find themselves in untraditional points of songs, especially when they are used to effectively close a track. When I heard the solo section on this song for the first time I knew I was going to love this album, simply because the section was so unorthodox and experimental. The solos on this release are very similar to that filthy yet soaring wail of the ones on Autopsy’s material, but there is an additional, almost psychedelic vibe to the work on this release that works really well. This quality continues for the rest of the lead guitar work on the record, which ends up being one of its highlights for me.
The Dead Yet Dream
“The Dead Yet Dream”, the second track on the release, offers a debut of the deeper, more suffocated vocal style from the lead singer. While the main vocal style found throughout the record plays more to the tune of a traditional death metal growl, the vocal performance on this track fits the song’s vibe exceptionally. “The Dead Yet Dream”, as the song title suggests, is one of the slower and gloomier tracks on the release, which is an atmosphere partly achieved due to its vocal sections.
The song opens with a sorrowful melody which is then coupled with the deeper vocal style discussed above. The vocalist sounds like they’re singing from some sort of underwater enclosure with the associated sound waves struggling to penetrate through the surrounding water molecules. The song simply highlights the vocal and instrumentational diversity on the album which is one of its most redeeming qualities. The new vocal sound really adds to the freshness of this album, as the artists demonstrate their ability to offer something new to the listener while maintaining that heavy vibe all the same.
The track also features Chris Reifert’s first performance, with the next being on the following track, “Anguish and Insanity”. Chris’ nearby proximity to the band and presumably good relations with some of the more experienced band members allowed for this opportunity to arise.
I quite like Chris’ performance and what he subsequently added to the table for the group. His parts are used sparingly and are thus found within that middle line whereby you savour the times he is featured but you don’t get the feeling that the album leans on being attached to a bigger name. While at first I found it kind of weird that an up-and-coming smaller band like Mortuous would feature such a big name on their release, I have grown to accept and enjoy the addition. This is especially true when you look at the members who make up the band and see that they have close historical ties to the Californian metal scene.
The whole homage style of this release links to what I feel is an underlying problem within the metal world. While I’m not pointing fingers at these particular band members, especially since some have an old history with the community that dates back a few decades, I feel as if the community places too much of an overarching emphasis on the so-called “legendary” bands of the genre. The FFO (For Fans Of) section used on many posts and articles online which serves to highlight groups similar to the one in question always contains old-school bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s which have been cemented within metal culture. For example, Skeletal Remains’ most recent release from earlier this year was a pretty big hit among metal circles, but I keep seeing people referring to their sound as one similar to Pestilence and Obituary’s early eras. I just feel like the genre is kind of stagnant and the community places too much emphasis on the old-school days of metal without looking forward for innovation.
This ties in to Mortuous’ new album because the group lies on a thin line between strict old-school worship and playing something new. Their black/white logo and font is incredibly similar to any old-school band logos and even their album art has that ‘90s cartoon vibe. As mentioned above, their music plays similar to an homage style but also has frequent elements of experimentation within the varied vocal deliveries and lead guitar work. Heck, they even feature a legendary and primordial death metal vocalist on their record.
I guess I’m just using this opportunity to discuss something bigger that I feel is brewing under the skin of the genre. There is nothing inherently wrong with this release, it actually is very tasteful and diverse, but I feel like it contributes to that stagnant feeling within the metal world.
Going back to the album, it achieves everything it aimed for and manages to rival other similar releases this year. Its strongest qualities are the diverse vocal performances, ranging vibe from doom to death along the record, and the expanding, almost psychedelic lead guitar solos found throughout the tracks. While it expands proficiently along these criteria, I can’t help but escape the feeling that the release fails to do anything remotely new within the genre. However, Through Wilderness is an extremely solid debut for a newer band and it deserves the praise it has been receiving from metal circles.