Morne’s dark, blurry intensity returns on surprisingly bleak new album ‘Shadows’

Photo by Hillarie E. Jason

Photo by Hillarie E. Jason

I’ve often said that most records worth your while take some time before they settle into your bones. At least the ones that seem to matter do because you kind of have to earn them. You have to let the music sink in and percolate in your system in order for you to truly understand the meaning behind it all and why it should matter to you.

Earning a record, to me, is a way to build a relationship with the music because you took time to get to know what’s going on and, therefore, have deeper ties to it. It means something to you. I have had that same learning experience with every release that Boston’s Morne have put out to date, and have had mostly positive results with them. But, at the same time, even if something from Morne doesn’t resonate with me entirely, I at least know why and can make an informed decision based on all of the time I spent immersed in the band’s world.

Morne coverMorne’s debut full-length “Untold Wait” was one of those promos that I put on to sample (I do that with every record I am considering reviewing just to get a quick glimpse before jumping in) and immediately was intrigued by the band’s approach to atmospheric doom, crust, and sludge. It didn’t sound like every other band’s stab at it as it had more imagination, more darkness, and though it took me some time to fully get my head around it, it has become a go-to release for me. Their 2011 album “Asylum,” their first for Profound Lore, also kept me at arm’s length my first few visits, but strangely, hard as I tried, I never was able to fully get on board with that record. It’s certainly not bad by any means, but I just couldn’t get with it and engage completely. Even when I listen now, two years later, it sounds fines to me but it just won’t stick.

That leads us to “Shadows,” the band’s third album and one of their darkest, most emotionally spent records to date. It’s dreary, miserable, depressing, and makes me feel like I’ve been standing in the cold, unforgiving rain for hours. As unpleasant as that may sound, however, it’s a positive. The more time I spend with “Shadows,” the more it slips into my consciousness, and as much as I love the band’s debut opus, this arguably is Morne’s strongest outing to date. Yes, it took a while for this record to have an effect—my first few listens, I worried it was going the same direction as “Asylum”—but now that it has taken its hold, I can’t shake its excellency. It’s psychologically damaging in all the right ways, and the band—vocalist/guitarist Milosz Gassan, guitarist Jeff Hayward, bassist Max Furst, and drummer Billy Knockenhauer—have never sounded this vital and this violent, drubbing home their frustration and discontent unmercifully.

“Coming of Winter” gets the record off to an admittedly plodding start, as melodies repeat over and over, Gassan sounds purposely detached like he’s staring off into the distance and pouring out his woes, and the band treads thick water. As Gassan howls, “Seasons change!” it’s almost a warning sign for what’s ahead on the remainder of “Shadows.” “A Distance” really gets thing into gear, with a clean, drizzling, eerie open that’s murky and foggy and hovers overhead for several minutes until it bleeds into funeral doom territory. Finally, about seven minutes in, Gassan lets go with his howls, adding thorns into what’s a slippery, mossy surface, and as the song reaches its conclusion, the muddy water gone clean.

“New Dawn” starts on a stream of deathrock-style guitars that meet up with hoarse growls and atmospheric synth wooshing in the background. The song meanders a bit in the middle, but it’s just setting the stage for the lead guitars to slice through and draw more blood. The music lightens up a bit, not exactly opening an embrace but at least feeling less menacing for a bit. “Shadows” has some glorious, epic doom guitar, reminiscent of early My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, while Gassan bellows, “Hide from your fear!” The melodies grow wintry and chilly, and the conclusion is both soaring and sorrowful, bursting with dark energy. Closer “Throes,” that runs exactly 10 minutes, is an interesting piece, with the first half built on hefty fields of drone, and then once you feel like you’re getting lost in the fog, funeral doom-style melodies trickle in and cover your prone body, leaving you immersed and feeling like your lungs are filled with frigid water.

Morne’s had a really interesting, morose journey in their time together, and while they certainly have a trademark sound, you still can’t safely predict exactly what they’d do each record. “Shadows” is a cataclysmic effort that happily takes your hand and walks you into a room containing your most vicious demons and gut-wrenching emotions, and you know damn well Morne won’t blink. This is a devastating document, one of the heavier of the year, and it proves Morne are as mighty and bleak as ever.

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