Mitochondrion’s Parasignosis is their first album for Profound Lore, and it is a bruising, joyfully enervating listen that plays as one extended ritual. Taken as an organic whole, the effect is – believe it or not – almost relaxing. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. See, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that there may be a similar thing happening in death metal as did with the emergence of ‘orthodox’ black metal in the early 2000s. I’m talking Deathspell Omega, Funeral Mist, Watain (calm down, just the first two albums), Ofermod, Malign, Katharsis, and so on. Much of this current trend is happening at the interstices of black and death metal, so much so that distinguishing between the two becomes as problematic as it is unnecessary. As with all trends, in no time at all I’m sure we’ll find ourselves bemoaning the dearth of innovation and making all manner of snide puns over our pints of black food-dyed ale. For now, though, Mitochondrion is the real thing, the damned thing, in the flesh and in your nightmares.
Like fellow sanity-botherers Teitanblood, Witchrist, Dead Congregation, Weapon, Father Befouled and scores of others, Mitochondrion dispenses with the traditional gory preoccupations of death metal in favor of more occult-tinged, ritualistic metal cut through with jagged shards of black metal and punishing doom, drawing in equal parts from the aforementioned black orthodoxy and the slow oozing crawl of prime Incantation. The vocals are so deep and low in the mix that they almost become another ambient instrument rather than an imposing rhythmic force. (See The Dead’s Ritual Executions for a similar effect.) The production is just about pitch-perfect; the songs lean heavily toward the churning maelstrom school of songwriting, but even in the thickest mire of blasting chaos, there are discernible riffs underneath it all. Not necessarily find-yourself-humming-them-in-the-shower-three-days-later riffs, but more like dark melodic motifs that demand space to flex, expand, contract, and mutate. (See the middle section of “Tetravirulence” for a perfect example of the technique.) When the band takes the time to slow down into vast, hulking edifices of temporarily suspended doom, they are every bit as righteously powerful as the greats of grim-faced funeral doom/death, from Evoken to Disembowelment and Esoteric.
Mitochondrion’s song structures are more straightforward than mind-bending labelmates Portal, but fans of Profound Lore’s other arcane death metal acts such as Vasaeleth and Impetuous Ritual will find themselves equally bewitched by Parasignosis, which at its best carries the same metaphysical whiff and occult weight of classic Morbid Angel. These aren’t three-minute pop songs, though, and the way Mitochondrion sustains interest and forward momentum throughout these long, often non-linear sweeps is very reminiscent of fellow travelers The Ruins Of Beverast. Underneath all the roiling death/black intensity there is always a sinister undercurrent of whispers and barely-perceptible noise, like a lurking presence breathing down one’s neck, or a hideous spiritual twin stalking one’s shadow silently, mockingly.
The first part of the opening three-part suite has a powerfully-catchy riff motif throughout, and manages, for its entire four-minute length, to feel like every second is building to something monumental, before the second movement pulls down the tension only to immediately build it back up and tear its way into the monstrous “Tetravirulence.” You want complex death metal done right? Check out how the drums echo the twisted, twinned guitar leads about four minutes in, and how the song burrows itself deeper and deeper into an abyss of lightless gloom, animated by the angular purchase of the bass guitar thrusting its way through the murk about six minutes in. These opening three tracks bleed into one another so seamlessly that they ought to qualify as seventeen of the most unrelentingly punishing minutes heard in extreme metal for ages upon deathless ages.
The real question, then, is where to go after such a triumphant first act. Mercifully, the rest of the album is no slouch. The title track is particularly ferocious, with flailing guitar leads and a wonderful jittery drum section two-thirds of the way through. Even the most mild-mannered among you will surely find yourself howling along to the massive vocal break at “WHEN WILL YOU ACTUALIZE? PARASITE!” “Banishment (Undecaphosphoric)” offers some of the only moments of respite of the entire album during its headphone-begging drum intro and brief suspended drone section, before eventually re-upping the intensity by kicking out some furious stop-time blasts, while “Kathenotheism” plays like a wordless conclusion to the ritual; almost like the opening track in reverse, such is the oceanic lull of its gently venomous rhythms.
Ambient outros often seem unnecessary, coming across as undeserved padding or a bid for ‘artistic integrity’ or some shit. But here, while “Kathenotheism” would have been a perfectly splendid way to close the record, the nearly ten minutes of dark ambient droning that follows it are undercut with ghostly whispers and deep, resounding thuds, and feel like a necessary malediction. It’s a bit like the band is still playing out there somewhere just beyond your perception, while you, blighted listener, are drifting away on a dead grey ocean, left to grasp only at the decaying echoes of music’s lack as it lapses into an oblivion of noise, an undertow of static, from whence no redemption or escape. This is an exhausting album in all the right ways. I made the somewhat spurious claim at the outset that Parasignosis is relaxing, but I don’t mean to suggest that it’s an album to replace Enya at yoga studios the country over. I mean that it’s claustrophobic and seductive and somehow inevitable in its unwavering dark drive, luring you into a state of trance so that it can drag you off into a corner and make you participate in unspeakable acts of Lovecraftian terror. I’d suggest you let it do so.