I was going to start this review with a short ovation about how great the band name Moral Collapse is for the modern day. Then I realized a bunch of people would respond about Dr. Seuss being “canceled” as a clear marker of it in the U.S. and I don’t have enough time or money to push all of them off of bridges. Instead, let’s talk about that amazing feeling that we all get when heavy metal hits you just right and brings about this reaction:
Moral Collapse’s self-titled debut album first elicited that exact reaction from me a grand total of one minute and 14 seconds into the album on a fleet-fingered bass run about 10 seconds into “Abandoned Rooms of Misspelled Agony.” You read that right, by the way, it was the FIRST of MANY times I had that reaction. That little pop of bass was the perfect extra slab of heaviness that precise moment needed and was a clear indication that details matter to this group. It doesn’t hurt that the bass tone is so heavy it sounds like the strings are made of steel cables from a construction site. The song continues its show of power with blitzing passages that drop into held notes like a clarion call from hell, which should be a familiar technique to Nile fans. That early segment is followed by a crisp guitar lead that would fit comfortably on a Cynic record and then came my second Andy Dwyer face of the album when a subtle saxophone began to slowly waft into the mix as if from a dreamy desert far away.
Moral Collapse’s use of non-traditional instruments doesn’t stop there, but they are implemented sparingly and never to the detriment of the death metal being offered; Instrumental “Suspension of Belief” is a prime example. The opening stretch of the song actually has you more zeroed in on band mastermind Arun Natarajan’s exceptional bass work backed by Hannes Grossman’s (yes, THAT Hannes Grossman) battering drums, while Natarajan and Sudarshan Mankad’s guitars swell and swarm around the rhythms. When the saxophone enters the mix, it’s perfectly blended into the guitars to simply add an extra texture to that haunting swirl. If you aren’t paying attention, you may not even realize it’s a saxophone at all. Throughout the song, strange violin notes pop in and out of the mix to help accent the chaos of the music, but again, never stay for a prolonged period to dominate the track. Quite frankly, the guitars function in a similarly odd balance; They riff, lead, squall, build atmosphere or simply accent the rhythm section all in equal measure.
The six non-instrumental tracks all offer these guitar elements in varying degrees. A track like “Sculpting the Womb of Misery” focuses more on the atmospheric and flourishing guitar parts, while “To the Blind, All Things Sudden” hits it out of the park with an infectious Bolt Thrower groove and downright hummable chorus riff. None of the songs, however, are bereft of top-notch lead work. If you’re wondering how they manage to pack so many exceptional string-abusing solos into so few songs, it might have something to do with the fact that there are four guest musicians that contributed their callous-popping works to the album, including Gorgut’s own Kevin Hufnagel.
Think you’ve got a good idea of the brand of tech-death Moral Collapse is all about? Just to throw you another curveball, the band closes the album with “Trapped Without Recourse,” which only utilizes violin some weird possessed person chittering over the top. The strings on the violin seem to be stretched to their limits as they are eerily plucked or bowed in an ominous manner that never settles into a distinct pattern. This unsettling combo feels like the soundtrack to Lupita Nyong’o’s character crawling out of a subway tunnel in Us.
Moral Collapse has created a debut that feels at once mechanical and human. The technicality, precision and hefty tones scream of machines bringing about the collapse of the world, but the loose and varied approach to the guitars blended with the non-traditional instruments inject a needed slab of humanity that makes Moral Collapse an undeniable monster. This isn’t just technical pomp or experimentation for the sake of showing off, but an album with well-written songs and an incredibly engaging approach to modern death metal.