Over the past couple years, a lot of American critics and fans have commented on France’s recent burgeoning and impressive contributions to metal, and one of the albums that’s often cited in examples of this is Blut Aus Nord’s last full length, 2003’s The Work Which Transforms God. France, of course, weren’t strangers to metal until then, and similarly Blut Aus Nord were a good outfit before their attention grabbing and lauded last album, but TWWTG was a nice foothold for band and country both. The album was also a very big hit with the staff and forum community at MetalReview, by the way. So expectations and anticipation for the follow-up are high, sort of. Because ironically, there already WAS a follow up of sorts, and one that received very little attention. The band’s Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity (say that six times) EP eventually became available in the US as a bonus disc for The Work, but THIS work didn’t transform much of anything. The instrumental industrial ambient collection had its charm, but didn’t exactly satiate the hunger its monstrous predecessor built. As much as anything, it was interesting to see how the band would continue to progress, even though it seemed unlikely that the true follow-up to TWWTG would stick to the EP’s experimental formula. Sure enough, MoRT sounds like a logical succession from The Work, although it’s quite far from a part two, both in style and quality.
MoRT makes two distinct impressions right off the bat. The first is that these guys are downright masterful when it comes to sculpting a frighteningly palpable atmosphere. From the get go, the album seems to suck you through a wormhole and land you in some horrifying parallel world where the black walls around you seem to ripple subtly, breathing, lurking, yet not quite alive. The feel of this album is incredibly engrossing and quite honestly, is alone almost worth the price of admission. The second impression, the less favorable one, is made just after one gets comfortable with the effects of the first. BaN sets the stage beautifully here, but don’t quite make MoRT as compelling as it could be, because the songs don’t contain enough variation. The entire affair plods along in a menacing but unvarying mid tempo churn. This album is conceptualized as a single work, and all the songs flow together, divided only by brief swirling ambient interludes, like fog that gathers and is then blown away. Still, even for a single piece of music, this album is more single-minded than it needs to be. Under other circumstances, this criticism would carry more weight and most likely greatly reduce my enjoyment (and score). But although MoRT may be a one trick pony, it’s a REALLY good trick. It’s also a trick that reveals a little more depth each time it’s witnessed. After being enthused and then a little bored by MoRT, continued spins proved to ferret out subtle nuances that make the album deceptively textured.
MoRT doesn’t have that same looming grandness of TWWTG, rather it seethes with a more restrained, downright harrowing, swirling atmospheric black metal petulance. A key to the album’s success is its ability to both set you on edge with its disarming off kilter aggression, but also to also draw the listener in with entrancing ambience and instrumentation. This leads to a kind of an uncomfortable hypnotic experience that makes for a unique listen. The band constructs a layered atmospheric base, then heaps on loads of spiny shards of dissonance through spidery, skittering guitar lines. The percussion pistons away in alternating speeds and variations, lending to the cold, mechanical presence of the songs. That aspect is offset by the understated vocals, which put a human face on the beastly, foreign feel of the material. In addition to the standard snarling viciousness, the album also makes occasional use of some chanting choral voices and, during “Chapter V”, a downcast, lugubrious clean passage. There are sure to be plenty of fans who feel like this album is just too samey and/or doesn’t move the ball forward from TWWTG’s success. But MoRT offers much more than it seems to, and is well worth the attention of those who appreciate the vivid canvases of atmosphere that bands like The Axis of Perdition and Blut Aus Nord so ably fill.