Not only do lesser known Dublin based Mael Mórdha have some serious Primordial-worship going on, but members of the Mael Mórdha horde also act as session musicians for their touring big brothers. Knowing their close affiliation to Primordial (whom I hold in pretty high regard) and that Mael Mórdha boast a recent signing to Candlelight Records offering them a wider distribution base, I was a tad keen to hear their fourth full-length release. Damned When Dead is an infusion of traditional Irish laments and dirges on a sturdy back-bone of folk metal with some doom and gloom added for good measure, much like that on offer by Primordial and in part by Waylander. Where Mael Mórdha try to set themselves apart is in the ideas behind their albums. Damned When Dead is built around the traditional Irish text the ‘Annals Of The Four Masters’ with the title of the album extracted from within the text – ‘Putrid when living, damned when dead.’ This album is definitely one aimed at the history buff!
I’m guessing you’re not here for a history lesson, so I’ll not dredge up the details. Safe to say that the concept is all bound rather nicely with an exquisite piece of album art, depicting Nannán tearing Diarmuid’s tombstone into two, painted by Vasileious Zicos. Damned When Dead kicks off with “Laudabiliter,” a track that feels like it would fit in nicely alongside something like Bathory‘s “Ode.” From humble beginnings the song swells while maintaining a slowly persistent melancholy, enhanced by the addition of the tin whistle entwining itself seamlessly with the plodding guitar lines. The epic continues with “King of the English,” which slowly ramps up the pace, increasing the intensity and rather abruptly you’re forging ahead with the steely Anglo-Norman knights in “Dawning of the Grey.” Both “King of the English” and “Dawning of the Grey” unashamedly flaunt a heavy dose of that Primordial-worship I mentioned earlier. “All Eire Will Quake” and “Bloody Alice” are a turning point for me and it’s more of this dramatic, bassy intensity and lyrics that drip with death, blood-lust and imagery of corpses piled as high as the sky that I long for when listening to this album. The album marches to a close with the title track that for some reason has me hankering to hear Agalloch‘s “Black Lake Niðstång.”
“King of the English,” “All eire will Quake” and “Bloody Alice” are prime examples of Roibéard Ó Bogail’s matured, clean vocal range. He has a dramatic, impassioned, almost gruff vocal style with intonation that’s remarkably similar to that of Primordial‘s front-man Nemtheanga. Surprisingly enough the biggest vocal moment of the album occurs in the last quarter of the title or final track – where, or the bigger question, why the hell was Roibéard keeping this glorious growl under wraps? Gerry Clince’s riffage, while being plenty melodic, lacks the draw and variation I found in ex-guitarist Anto Lindsay’s work. And the riffs on Damned When Dead just end up with repeat play, feeling weighty, overly repetitive and outside of a few very brief instances (“Laudabiliter,” “All eire will Quake” and “Bloody Alice”), lack the variation necessary to grip my attention.
Production on Damned When Dead is much improved in comparison to Mael Mórdha‘s past releases. I found it easy to pick up on the Irish folk elements and Dave Murphy’s bass, while at the same time Shane Cahill’s drums feel pulled back enough that they’re more comforting heartbeat than jarring. I’d like to have heard Roibéard brought a little more consistently to the fore, I love the drama and passion packed in his voice and because of this I feel driven to up the volume to max to get the full effect.
With this, Mael Mórdha‘s fourth release, there’s a definite maturing in the band and Roibéard’s vocal style that I’m pleased with and it’ll prompt me to check out future releases by the band. What hurts Damned When Dead is the very heavy concept drawn out across the tracks, and the fact that a good portion of the album carries on past its proverbial sell-by date with around half the tracks hitting close to the 8 minute mark. A decent release vocally and production-wise, albeit not entirely original – Next time though, bring me more corpses piled as high as the sky! [Time to change her name from Madam X to Countess Bathory — Steel Druhm].