Bizarre black metal band Mortuary Drape get new life with ‘Tolling 13 Knell’ reissue

mortuary drape
Surely there will be no argument when I suggest that heavy metal can ridiculous. King Diamond wailing about grandma, Bruce Dickinson wearing a bird mask, and bands posing for promo photos in graveyards all count when defending that argument, but it’s also a major reason why I love metal and why so many other people are drawn to it. The music can be dead serious, but in the end, it’s OK if there’s a really good show involved too.

I say this because we’re going to discuss long undervalued Italian black metal band Mortuary Drape and the reissue of their 2000 full-length “Tolling 13 Knell,” the group’s third full-length overall and a collection that really lets you see into the bizarre psyche and black carnival-like showmanship this band possesses. It seems like ever since the band played a primary slot at last year’s Maryland Deathfest that people are finally waking up and paying attention to the Drape, and getting your hands on this record that’s back into wider circulation thanks for Peaceville is a great way to start if you’re one of those who has been lagging behind.

moortuary drape coverMortuary Drape entered the world nearly 30 years ago, having formed in 1986, and they released their “Necromancy” demo a year later. This bizarre, occult-driven band would keep working on their weird magic, releasing more demo recordings before finally serving up their debut EP “Into the Drape” in 1992 and finally getting their first full-length into the world with 1995’s “At the Witches Dance.” Another EP followed in 1996, followed by their second full-length “Secret Sudaria” in 1997, and “Tolling” would come three years later. They’ve only offered up one more full-length since then, 2004’s “Buried in Time,” that will be reissued later this summer, and they’re only now working on a new record to shroud the world in their updated brand of sickness.

Wildness Perversion remains the man in front of the Drape having handled lead vocals through their entire run and drums early on, and alongside him is DC (also known as Left-Handed Preacher), who plays bass and guitar and also has contributed vocals over the years. The rest of the current lineup is new, but rounding out the band on this record were bassist Without Name, guitarists Roaming Soul and Demon Shadow, and drummer I.O.R.R. Will Revealed (who plays with Black Flame, Dead to This World, and Hate Profile).

The 10-track, 56-minute record opens with “Dreadful Discovery,” a bizarre, loopy lurker that sounds like early ’90s death metal and prog smooshed together. “Liar Jubiliem” is the first of a few cuts on here that bear a resemblance to Mercyful Fate’s heyday, as it blows open into off-kilter savagery and crazy bass work that’s a trademark of this record. “Vertical” is theatrical and sits in a mid-tempo groove while the words spew from Wildness Perversion’s mouth like he’s rambling off instructions to make a strange tincture. “Not Still Born (The Unborn Plane)” opens with hummed chants and slips smeary guitars, more over-the top growling and wailing, and rock-solid lead guitar lines. “Laylah” is one of the strangest cuts on the record, which is saying something, and is a horrific storyteller that is psychologically damaging but also eerily calculating.

“Winged Priestess” has a doom feel that’s reminiscent of Pentagram, with bizarre singing and an atmosphere that should make you quiver inside. “The Last Supper” is supremely evil and has a hypnotic presence, and as its creepiness grows, the pulverizing gut punches they eventually throw register as that much more effective. “Birth’s End” is crunchy and warped, and it settles into an Iron Maiden-style gallop, with inventive, monstrous vocals from our host Wildness Perversion. “Defuncts” is proggy and bizarre, with strong lead guitar and waves of thrash and death pulverization. It’s a tricky, horror-filled adventure that’ll make you wonder more than once what the fuck is going on. Closer “Lantern” sounds like it was ripped from King Diamond’s songbook and imagination, with fiery guitar work, more prog bubbling, and an overall torturous story that unfurls, captures you, and doesn’t let go until the funereal bells chime out at the end of the cut.

Attached to the end of the record are five re-recorded tracks from their “Doom Return” demo, reimagined during the “Tolling 13 Knell” sessions. Naturally the songs sound better than they did first time around, and the band doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of the savagery and rawness of the originals.

As the metal world fills up with more and more bands and sub-genres swell at the seams, there seem to be fewer groups that come along like Mortuary Drape, who dress their evil incantations with personality and a dramatic flair. These guys are showmen, as much as they may hate that term, and swell with charisma and weirdness. Of course, the music is what matters, and these guys bring quality in bundles, so if you’re new to Mortuary Drape or you simply want an updated copy of “Tolling Knell 13,” you need to make a point to get this reissue in your collection.

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