As it was in the past, so it is again: something foul is creeping from the heart of Scandinavia. Morbid Dimensions is the Norwegian band Execration’s third album, and it emerges at an opportune time. In recent years, several cohorts and regional scenes of the band’s countrymen and neighbors have pursued their muse along two related but distinct pathways. On the one hand, there are bands who quickly sloughed off their traditionalist death metal origins in favor of wild, often psych-tinted experimentation: Necrovation, Morbus Chron, Tribulation, Diskord, and so on. On the other hand are the bands that have planted their flag in proudly orthodox terrain, chasing after the most perfect riffs the ‘80s overlooked with the shambolic looseness of Sodom of old: Aura Noir, Nekromantheon, Condor, Toxik Death, Mions Hill, etc.
If your brain’s pleasure center quivers at the mention of those names, then a) you might be a bit nasty, and b) Execration has got just the noise for you. In many ways, the band splits the difference between those two parallel strains: Morbid Dimensions isn’t exactly ‘progressive’ in the same way as, say, Morbus Chron’s brilliant Sweven, but there’s more than enough knotted, gnarled riffing to give a hint of Voivod. It also never plays things straight or mean-spirited enough to feel quite regressive (like, for example, Norway’s also excellent Obliteration).
Execration’s four-piece lineup has been stable across their three full-length albums, and that pays real dividends: the band’s default mode of presentation is dense, four-part musical conversation, rather than trading off between individually spotlighted performances. The production of Morbid Dimensions is naturalistic and uncluttered. The drums are a tremendous, clattering joy, the guitars are whip-taut and nervy in their trill-heavy embellishments, and the bass is a thick, subterranean elastic.
The opening of “Cosmic Mausoleum” is a gleefully winking riff on the genre-creating riff of “Black Sabbath,” and as such it’s both reverent and playful. (Which, not coincidentally, is a half-decent way to summarize Morbid Dimensions as a whole.) Since these songs are long and mostly patient, they will require some patience of the listener. So, while Execration might not exactly fit the ticket if you’re looking for a whirlwind of immediate death metal gratification, if you stick with these songs you’ll find them incredibly sturdy and engrossing, and just as likely to spin their chiming arpeggios and ghostly tremolo lines into a spectral haze as into punk-raw d-beat transitions.
At just over an hour long, is it too much of a good thing? Absolutely. But for every song that could probably have been trimmed by a minute or two, there’s always an unexpected twist just around the corner. With the affected monotone backing vocals in “Tribulation Shackles,” for example, Execration occasionally invokes Scandinavia’s Weird ’90s – Ved Buens Ende, in particular. “Dopplegangers” hits a consistently spooky note throughout, with the album’s sparse reverb leaving the band with no gimmicks to hide behind.
And really, that may be the key to Execration’s ongoing success: they are absolutely playing “weird” death metal, but that weirdness is never oversold. The band doesn’t use unusual instruments or leaven the metal with ambient excursions; they haven’t done anything bizarre with the album’s production; and while their songs are long and often involve elaborately interlocking sections, there’s never a sense of playing those different sections against each other for the cheap shock of juxtaposition. Execration’s weirdness is entirely internal to the compositions, and as such, it feels more honestly come by.
If weird death metal that doesn’t forget to be, y’know, death metal punches your ticket, Morbid Dimensions is a must-hear. Does it sound like Scream Bloody Gore-era Death jamming with Symbolic-era Death? Hell no. It also doesn’t sound particularly like Atheist putting together a Neurosis, Krallice, and Virus mixtape. But sometimes, it feels like that. Feelings, sisters and brothers. Get into ‘em.