PICK OF THE WEEK: Mortals crush with black metal majesty, doom on ‘Cursed to See the Future’

MortalsPeople’s attention spans are so short these days. I watched a guy in line at the coffee shop this morning totally forget what he was ordering because he was distracted by a text message or some garbage on his phone. He was ordering a pound of Colombian coffee, ground for auto-drip. I remembered it, but it was a little too difficult for him.

That dude’s not alone, and it seems like a lot of music fans these days have a hard time keeping their focus. Trends come and go, bands rise and burn out in a day, and longevity seems like a thing of the past. Luckily, Mortals are here to shove our asses back in line, and their new full-length effort “Cursed to See the Future” is just the elixir to keep your eyes and ears in one place for an extended time. See, the three killer musicians in Mortals aren’t satisfied with playing one style of metal. They combine elements of black, death, doom, and sludge and weave them so compellingly, you can’t help but be blown away. Indications were strong that on their last EP “Death Rituals” that ambition and creativity had been pushed through the roof, but no one could have been prepared for the heady, destructive, constantly morphing new record they dropped into our laps like a cement slab. Basically, if you can’t be bothered to keep your attention in one spot, they’re going to keep it there by bloody force.

Mortals coverMortals are a three-headed beast comprised of bassist/vocalist Lesley Wolf, guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Cline, and drummer Caryn Havlik. If you’ve been following along, you’ll realize just how far this band has come when you hear these six tracks. From their 2009 debut full-length “Encyclopedia of Myths” up to “Cursed,” you will have experience their first steps waffling you with punk- and hardcore-laced sounds, and a dirtier, more primitive approach, to now, when they’ve become one of the most interesting, captivating extreme metal machines going. These are three incredible musicians who deserve individual accolades, but together, they’re more powerful than you could ever know. They can take you through all kinds of dangerous terrain, where you’ll see all sorts of horrors and wonders, and while you’ll be pretty banged up when it’s over, you’ll remember the ride as an exciting one, that you’d kill to take all over again. In fact, I’ve continually revisited the record because every time I do, the songs reveal more of themselves to me, and I begin to hear them in new ways. That’s an invaluable thing, when you can feel and see fresh things every time you hear the same record. If only more bands could do that.

“View From a Tower” greets you with pure demolition from the start, with the band launching into tricky black metal that’s violent and seeks blood. The vocals roar and go for the throat, feeling savage and animalistic, and as the song goes on, it develops into a prog-fueled, captivating piece that holds your attention by force. There are moments during this song that made me think back to the sadly befallen Ludicra, which made me happy to hear Mortals carrying on a piece of their spirit. “Epochryphal Gloom” has thick bass playing at the start, and it goes into a doom-infested assault that eventually meets up with black metal majesty. Again, the musical progression through the song is stunning, and there is plenty of sinister melody to drench you in dramatic terror. There are sections you can just get lost in, imagining some sort of glorious battle scene that’s equally picturesque and dripping with guts. The band hits all the sweet spots, from mean and grisly punishment, to vocals that sound like they wish to maim you, and eventually more doomy mauling. Hell of a trip. “The Summoning” is unquestionably black during its 9:20 running time, with a dizzying array of melodies, thrashy tendencies that could get your face punched at a live show, and cymbals that are assaulted by Havlik with merciless fury. You never stay in one place for the long, as the band works through so many ever-changing sections of chaos that it’s pointless to fight. You might as well get swept up and go along for the ride through this monster.

“Devilspell” is the most heinous-sounding of all the songs, and perhaps that’s evident simply from the title. The vocals sound like they were scraped from the walls of hell and pasted in Wolf’s mouth, especially with the howl of, “Lucifer, speak my name.” The song simmers for its nine-plus minutes, providing more chance to ride ever-changing, violent waves through grinding black metal, prog-influenced guitar parts that are simmering and exciting, and drumming that’ll break your face. The final few minutes offer the biggest surprises, as the band hits on some classic metal highs, closing in on some of their tightest, most fluid playing on a record full of that type of thing. Just a great, blood-rushing finish. “Series of Decay” runs more than nine minutes as well, and it blasts out of the gate with surging black metal that’s an absolute joy to hear blaring from your speakers, headphones, you name it. Grisly vocals and storming playing make it feel like a drenching black cloud is hanging overhead. But eventually some calms sets in to act as the red herring. From there, the band ignites anew with savage thashing, chugging that just doesn’t quit, and some scintillating guitar work that burns the hair off your arms. I should note the guitar playing is a particular high point through this entire record, as Cline’s playing is enthralling and inventive. Closer “Anchored in Time” is one final dose of calculated black punishment, with the open question of, “Where has time gone?” The song feels sorrowful and solemn even while it’s rushing at you with torches blazing, and the doom-fed finish gives the cut, and the record, the perfect send-off to the pyres of death, where only ashes are your future.

I expect—no, I demand—by the end of the year, people are going to be putting Mortals on their best-of lists for 2014 and hailing this act as one of metal’s great hopes. They have a chance to reach way more people with Relapse behind them, and they put their best killing swords forward with “Cursed to See the Future.” If you haven’t experienced Mortals’ power and glory, there’s no better time than now. Do it, or get trampled in their violent path toward dominance.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/mortalstheband

To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/