Review by Ryan on August 10, 2014.
Certain artists inflict uncertainty. They exhibit trajectories reaching unto heights of technical, conceptual, or narrative mastery, and inspire a fear of the monstrous and wondrous. At several points on Morbus Chron’s new album Sweven, one is made to shudder from both its audacity and execution. Psychedelic rock? Goth rock? Traditional metal? All of it goes into a confounding death metal blender, programmed by Chris Reifert, Nicke Andersson, and (posthumously) Evil Chuck.
This is not to say that the band’s ambitions are wholly original. In Solitude and Tribulation dabble in similarly fertile waters, and Enslaved spent much of the past decade infusing bits of space rock into black metal. But Morbus Chron adhere to a messier and more ferocious template.
So Sweven doesn't pave an invasive six lane highway so much as it deviates from old and disused dirt trails. For most of the past 20 years, death metal has echoed elements of two different camps: the US brutal death metal and the international prog/tech death metal. Now we have an uncertain though clearly perceptible shift. The traditionalists hue to early ‘90s Swedish death metal, and the avant garde is beginning to forsake the formulas of Opeth, Atheist, Death, and Cynic. Morbus Chron maintain some of the fires of old, and simultaneously alloy a new steel within the forge.
And death metal itself seems at a curious crossroads these days. Morbus Chron are definitely in the camp of technical and progressive death metal bands. Some of these outfits now adhere to dense and un-musical templates (Gorguts) or evoke grandeur and ambition without technical wankery (Edge of Sanity). In the case of Morbus Chron, the proggy elements are both restrained and somber, resembling a death metal version of psychedelic prog on downers. There is a feeling of hypnotic dirge to the proceedings, occasionally accelerating to mid-pace rumble that precludes the doom death tag.
Sweven also has a few nagging imperfections that keep it from being a masterpiece, such as unnecessary piling on of psychedelic jamming or goth rock repetition. However, the overwhelming majority of the music is brilliant and transcendent, being both good and original without either aspect trading for the pretense of the other. The only thing I’m truly left wanting is a release date for next album.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10