If Mortem sound like all your Black Metal nightmares coming together into one stupendous ball of sonic filth and fury then perhaps that’s not altogether surprising. Certainly not when you look at some of the main players involved with the Norwegians’ debut studio release.
In many ways something of a Who’s Who in the Black Metal world, the four-piece features Marius Vold on vocals(previously with Stigma Diabolicum, Thorns, Arcturus), guitarist Steinar Sverd Johnsen (Arcturus, Covenant, Satyricon), bassist Tor R. Stavenes(1349, Svart Lotus, Den Saakaldte) and probably the band’s best known member Hellhammer, former drummer with Mayhem, Covenant and Arcturus.
So the Arcturus thread is clear to see with three-quarters of the line-up having already played together in that band. What is less obvious is that Mortem is strictly speaking a reformation rather than an entirely virgin project.
To put this release in some context we have to step back almost 30 years and the era of the Norwegian forefathers such as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum. Vold and Johnsen formed Mortem in 1989, releasing the now highly coveted Slow Death demo, with Euronymous and Dead of Mayhem acting as producer and cover artist respectively.
Slow Death was in many ways an understated title as as soon as Mortem had appeared they had disappeared, with the key players going onto pastures new such as Arcturus and Thorns, both of whom went on to have significant and impactful careers.
So why resurrect Mortem now? It seems Vold and Johnsen wanted an outlet for something even more brutal than the work they compile with Arcturus and there’s little doubt that the arrival to their ranks of Hellhammer and Tor Stavenes should help them achieve these goals, although perhaps inevitably shades of Arcturus remain in evidence at certain points.
So it’s scarcely a surprise that Ravnsvart is such a powerful piece of work, chugging into action immediately with the album’s compelling title track. Johnsen, who has also referenced Bathory when discussing the album, has targeted the old school flames and these certainly shine fiercely throughout, while some finely delivered grooves make this a still listenable record, rather than an all-out apocalyptic onslaught.
The song title on the likes of “Truly Damned” is reflected in the demonic sound that is never far from the surface and Mortem summon up even darker spirits on the more evenly paced “Demon Shadow”.
“Port Darkness” is a particularly charred explosion with blastbeats landing like stones in a hailstorm while album closer “The Core” shifts towards a frostier soundscape, more introverted but with the inherent threat of menace never far from the surface while some commanding riff sorcery also adds a further flourish of dark decadence.
With a few live dates planned it seems the four band members see Mortem as a project worth pursuing, rather than simply a distraction from their responsibilities elsewhere. Based on this debut album, that can only be seen as a good thing with anyone still harbouring a penchant for old school Scandi Black Metal.
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