Mortuous – Upon Desolation Review

[Album artwork by Marald van Haasteren]

“Death… The brutal way.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Or was that Asphyx. Definitely Asphyx. But it could just as easily have been both. Probably both. Either way, Pow!! Right in the kisser! Who wants to go out peacefully in their sleep and be ushered to some halcyon afterlife by fluffy winged lambs when there are endless tank treads, wrathful elephants, unpredictable detonations, and hurtling pianos falling from the 20th floor to catch? Well, me, actually. As much as I’d love to sail up to Valhǫll with a still thirsty sword at my side upon being felled by a battle bear in an extremely impressive brawl, I think Mother Nature has the advantage in the modern age with her penchant for vanquishing us idiots via an endless barrage of inescapable organic horrors, so I think I’ll take the fluffy lambs, thank you very much.

Oh, oh! Death METAL! That’s what Emily and Martin van Drunen had in mind. Yes. Yes, that makes a lot more sense. Given that scenario, I will most often opt for the brutal way. Not that I don’t appreciate the death metal bands that elect to sidestep crushing barbarity in favor of drifting atmosphere, funereal fun, swooshing melodiousness, or whizbang prog-ficiency, but push comes to shove, ol’ Rover wants his death metal the brutal way. Hello, I’m Rover, the friendly neighborhood dog who sticks his nose in freshly barfed sidewalk Jack-In-the-Box and wags his tail whenever he hears you play the first Immolation record*.

I am not a dog, my name is not Rover, and I probably wouldn’t eat Jack-In-the-Box if an au naturel Tauriel as portrayed by Evangeline Lilly brought it to our dining table**. However, I absolutely love the first Immolation record.

** Ooohhhhh, yes, I would.

Release date: September 16, 2022 Label: Carbonized Records.
Right… Death metal! The brutal way! Curiously enough, that particular street isn’t required to begin and end on Brutal Death Metal Dr in a city whose name is absolutely impossible to read. It certainly can, but before “brutal” existed as a specific genre descriptor / branch, it was the most logical headline attached to an ever-growing pile of ‘90s metal bands that punched the death metal pedal to the floor right from the gate: Cannibal Corpse, Autopsy, and of course all our cuddly ‘tion bands that encompass Suffy, Incan and Immo, plus about a hundred other freaks swirling in the furthest depths of the underground. It is in these old-timey fields that California Bay Area rotters Mortuous largely harvest their brand of brutalberry jam, with a concentration on that sweetest of sweet-spots achieved by Incantation by way of Onward to Golgotha (1992), Mortal Throne of Nazarene (1994) and Upon the Throne of Apocalypse (1995).

Have you had the putrid pleasure of Mortuous yet? Their 2018 debut full-length Through Wilderness marked a proper introduction to the band that, according to a very sensible Last Rites rogue back around the time of its release, “hits ‘em slow for just long enough to make ‘em think the quicksand will be their ultimate doom, then broadsides their fat coconut with a sudden burst of cavemanic speed to spice up the termination.” Termination being another term for DEATH, friend-o, which is fitting because that album did death metal so well that it very literally killed some people who listened to it. What, you didn’t hear about that?

Colin Tarvin?

With album number two, Upon Desolation, the same four goblins have again risen from their toadish lair to hurl the most rotten, incurably dank death metal one might ever hope to hear serenaded ‘neath a window loathsomely lit by an actual ibex moon. (Baa-aa-aad moon rising.) This record is an extremely logical progression from the 2018 offering, and I dare say it manages to out putridify Through Wilderness’s putridity simply by virtue of finding ways to be oilier, weightier and bleaker, and certainly owed to the fact that the vocals have found new ways to scour even lower depths that make it clear vocalist / guitarist Colin Tarvin (Evulse, Socioclast, Swamp Witch) is actually a damp, septic corpse living his best life in a deteriorated tank of abominable sewage. (Hey, rent’s just $300 / month + utilities.)

The biggest difference between Upon Desolation and its predecessor is… Well, probably the album cover. Not that there aren’t plenty of other degrees of separation, but this artwork finds an entirely new dimension of holy shitness that could very well cause troglodyte death metal fans as far as the eye can see to crash our ’94 Camrys directly through the front door of any record store daring enough to stock it. “I SIMPLY HAD NO TIME TO PARK, GOOD SIR OR MADAM.” [crawls through a busted windshield and begins pawing through t-shirts for rarefied Mortician gear.]

As was the case for the artwork that preceded it, the cover for Upon Desolation beautifully suits the overall narrative of the songs, which essentially equates to molten doom. There’s a bit more chaos coloring the corners here compared to 2018, though—weirder riffs, more shifts, and an additional level of calculated experimentation that makes it evident the band is not terribly interested in simply resting on their or anyone else’s laurels. Take a song like “Metamorphosis,” for example, which manages to pack its opening minute and a half with some wonderfully bleak death/doom and a couple funky little fits of deranged riffing before flattening the listener with a stupidly heavy tank tread 20 seconds later. It’s a surprisingly busy song, despite its clear fondness for plod, and if you love the aforementioned tank tread riff, just wait until your insides absolutely demand to become outsides after these cauldron goblins kick an even slower slog of leaden torment down your throat until The Riff Of The Year hits your chiclets right around 2:30.

While the crux of the record is once again built on a foundation first set by the U.S. scene in the early ‘90s, Mortuous continues to reach overseas for inspiration when it comes to the album’s frequent dips into a more distressed and melodic form of gloomy death. Where Through Wilderness seemed to grab for that early Cathedral vibe that called to mind skeletons playing femur bone fiddles in the forest, Upon Desolation instead opts for primeval Peaceville and Aftermath Music heavyweights. The wonderfully leveling “Nothing” is certainly beholden to the anguish of My Dying Bride circa 1992, and “Graveyard Rain” dampens an otherwise fairly spirited closer with shades of Paradise Lost colliding with Mourning Beloveth.

Ultimately, Upon Desolation achieves precisely what most every band hopes their sophomore effort will achieve: the next level. So, yes, as big as Through Wilderness was and continues to be, Upon Desolation simply sounds…bigger. Drummer Chad Gailey (Necrot, Vastum) remains one of death metal’s more underrated conquerors, aptly dividing his time from pounding the skins like some vulgar ogre and just exploding like a demon chopping wood, and bassist Clint Roach (Augurs, Evulse, Limbs) gets more time under the spotlight by providing plenty of absolutely scuzzy four string breakouts (“Defiled By Fire”!!!) to further grossify the complete journey. The leads continue to play a prominent role, probably still shared between Tarvin and Michael Beams (ex-Exhumed, ex-Repulsion), but they feel perhaps a touch more impromptu and unruly, without losing an iota of the fun.

Final score: If you can’t get enough of that early ‘90s foulness delivered by the likes of Incantation, Rottrevore, Baphomet (The Dead Shall Inherit—guuuhhhh) et al, and your idea of perfect evening involves sipping formaldehyde from swanky snifters while discussing the finer points of horrifically decomposed throwback bands such as Funebrarum, Static Abyss, and any of the recent Danish invaders (Phrenelith, Undergang, Chaotian, etc.), you will surely find an endless load of fun buried in the guts of Upon Desolation. And as you sit there gleefully stretching viscera and poking about all them cadaver noodles, please take yet another moment to fully appreciate the insalubrious joys of death metal… The brutal way.

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; That was my skull!

  1. “Brutalberry jam”. Dude, metalheads would definitely buy that if it existed.


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