Mortuous - Official Website - Interview

Through Wilderness

United States Country of Origin: United States

1. Beyond Flesh
2. Bitterness
3. Crysalis Of Sorrow
5. Anguish And Insanity
6. Through Wilderness
7. Prisoner Unto Past
8. Screaming Headless

Review by Rosh on February 19, 2023.

Emotions in music are conveyed primarily through sound and imagery, both of which have many aspects to them. When talking about a musical recording like an album, the sound is made up of things like the compositions themselves, the overall musical style, the production, and the tone of the instruments and/or voice of the vocalist. Imagery, meanwhile, is painted largely from the emotions instilled by the sound, but is also affected by the cover art, album title, song titles, and, if the listener cares to pay attention to such things, the lyrics and details about the artist's musical vision. The more of these components that have a distinct personality, the more elaborate and abstract the emotions portrayed become. This thematic obscurity not only adds replay value to a recording, but also makes for more to extract from it in the long run, in a vast expanse lying between what the artist intended and what the listener interpreted.

San José death metal project Mortuous has crafted Through Wilderness, a debut full-length that checks all of those boxes of artistic distinction with some variety of visceral catharsis or another. You hear people mention a given band's "influences" a lot, often making some very valid comparisons, but it's not often that influences are both subtle enough to be initially unclear, yet integrated enough to be of uncanny resemblance once deciphered. Through Wilderness is highly successful in that regard, because its influences manifest most prominently in the emotions it radiates, not merely its sound. The sound is the band's means to their end, an end consisting of near-nihilism made human only by genuine despair and worry.

It's very in touch with doom metal in that way, not just because it has slow, doomy parts like all other Incantation and Autopsy influenced death metal bands (although it does contain genuine doom melodies rather than just the power chord dirges you hear a great deal of that lot default to), but because it has that sense of anxiety and consuming emptiness. These gutturals have a subterranean sound, but one that sounds more tortured and suffocated and less like the bellow of a cavern-dwelling blob monster. The deformed lamentations of both Colin Tarvin (Acephalix) and Mike Beams (ex-Exhumed) struggling to make themselves heard while entangled in the malignant vines woven by the frenzied, meandering riffing creates a particular sense of sickened agony unheard since Decomposed's "Hope Finally Died" and, most notably, Cathedral's one-of-a-kind "Forest Of Equilibrium". The latter, by the way, is the ultimate compliment from me, seeing as how that 1991 album, despite its massive influence, has never been matched in its bizarre portrayal of profound lostness and emptiness, and in such despondency, the realization that our misery is so often born from our selfish pursuit of individual happiness. The parallels are many: the pained vocal delivery, the sludgy, oozing guitar and bass tone that reflects wounds that repeatedly tear themselves open just before they can fully heal, the organic drum sound reminiscent of the grotesque foliage portrayed on both album covers, and the use of deceptively beautiful acoustic guitars. The more I delved into this release, the more I saw it as Cathedral's debut reincarnated as death metal, an album I never thought could be recaptured.

But, I could compare Through Wilderness to one of my absolute favorite albums all day (I'm not done yet...), but it's a unique vision of introspective death metal all its own. Lyrical themes ranging from the funereal reality perceived by warped, tormented minds to the selfish mental idiosyncrasies that consume and dictate us all serve this music perfectly. When in full-fledged death metal form, Mortuous balances between a slow to mid-tempo trudge and a tremolo/blast bombardment, maintaining the momentum of a horde of shambling, undead puss-bags at both times. 'Bitterness' and the title track are noticeable examples of that engaging formula, but when they finally burst into their soaring guitar solos, they do well to recall the master guitarwork that finesses albums like "Cause Of Death" and "Mental Funeral" into the sublimely depraved experiences they are.

The latter tour de force (de corpse?) that's been festering upon the gospel of slithering, dastardly metal since 1991 was obviously more than a mere influence on Mortuous, because a certain Mr. Chris Reifert appears at the end of the dripping catacomb of fetid viscera that 'The Dead Yet Dream' chases you down to regurgitate an even more acidic type of bile upon the rancid holes in your worthless flesh. I use "chase" quite literally to describe this tune, too. The tribute to Autopsy is quite deliberate leading up to and at this segment, not only because it possesses the frantic Coralles/Cutler-esque leads that infect the whole album, but also because one can feel the change in drumming after the solo from conventional death metal blasts to the punkier, more freely stomping percussion heard on 'topsy tracks like "Pagan Saviour" (why an American band spelled "savior" like that will never make sense to me). It feels so incredibly familar and natural when you hear Reifert's insane wails at the end of the track, especially because he himself is the drummer in his own band. The same egg-headed madman appears to top off what I find to be one of Through Wilderness' most depressive tracks, 'Anguish and Insanity', this time further fueling the despair after an actually empathy-evoking, miserable guitar melody. The Reifert cameos add a lot to these songs, as he uses his higher screams in contrast to the low and slimy mark of Colin Tarvin and Mike Beams, redolent of someone in the process of a, you know, mental funeral, rather than the tortured gutturals that portray someone who's already completely decomposed inside.

(Another parallel, though probably coincidental, I found between Mortuous and the previously mentioned Cathedral is that Chris Reifert also cameoed on "Cathedral Of The Damned" from The Last Spire, although he only lent a spoken word segement to the song's bridge, rather than death growls.)

On the topic of downcast melodies, 'Crysalis Of Sorrow' (spelled "Chrysalis" on/in my CD insert and pamphlet) can't go unmentioned, because its dreadful guitar lines pulled me in as soon as I heard it, reminding me of Mortuous' fellow Californians, the venerable (and lyrically/thematically similar), Vastum, with whom the drummer of Mortuous is actually involved. Anyway, if "C(h)rysalis" grabbed you, then you have to stick around for 'Screaming Headless' (yeah, must hit home for the poor tree guy on the cover), which ends with the (fucking) coolest, most (fucking) deliberate tribute to Forest of (fucking) Equilibrium (fucking) ever. It's got the "Serpent Eve" intro-esque drumming and the hazy atmosphere and the flute and the acoustic part and everything. God, it's awesome, I can't even... mmmm.

But just then, when you think it's over, it's NOT. 'Subjugation Of Will' stomps in full-force, with a mean power-chord bludgeoning that sent me into a state of (defleshed) ecstasy I hadn't felt since Phrenelith did that to me on "Deluge Of Ashes", from their 2017 opus "Desolate Endscape". A grand finale of a death metal pummeler like this is really the cherry on top of Through Wilderness for me. The lyrics of "Subjugation" deal with the downfall of human interaction that is the digital age, something I found quite intriguing to read while I sat on my ass at this laptop, preparing to write a review for this album.

But sed review has reached a concrete conclusion, that being that Mortuous' first full-length rules. It's got everything, whether you simply want more slimy, murky death metal, think that that scene is too oversaturated and needs a fresh take, or just need your fix of misery in musical form. This album is truly a modern classic and I'm looking forward to seeing it venerated in due time, because it's artistically poignant and emotionally powerful. I'm tempted to call Mortuous a supergroup, but I feel that supergroups are very often a contrived method to cash in on the gimmick of simply having renowned figures write and play together without a real musical purpose in mind. Through Wilderness, though, is purpose and true feeling first, a vision made real with a highly tasteful use of influences and very compelling songcraft. Our bodies, our skin and bone, mean absolutely nothing because they'll all inevitably be putrefied into nothingness, giving rise to new life that will exist only to suffer and wither away just the same. But death metal? Death metal means something - we must have it to come to terms with such ineluctable realities, so take this voyage 'Beyond Flesh', it will stick with you to the grave.

Rating: 10 out of 10