Here’s a sage piece of life advice you can have for free: always carefully check what you’ve typed into your Google search bar before hitting “enter.” I recently fell foul of this little rule while researching “depressive suicidal black metal” (or “DSBM”) for the purposes of writing this review. Unless you’re feeling particularly brave, you’ll just have to take my word for it that while DSBM and BDSM might look similar, they are definitely not the same thing. I learned this the hard way. After I’d taken a lie down and splashed some cold water over my face, I mustered up the will to get back on track and proceed with my foray into Wild, Wild Misery — the latest offering from one-man Finnish DSBM project Mortualia.
Established almost by accident as an offshoot of the standardized black metal formula, the term “suicidal black metal” was coined in the mid-90s by Niklas Kvarforth of Shining. As the name suggests, the style places less emphasis on anti-religious bluster and more on simply being as overwhelmingly depressing as possible. Mortualia’s sole member is Shatraug — a man with an unintentionally amusing name and more bands and projects on the go than I’ve had hot dinners — Horna and Sargeist being two of the most noteworthy. Lauded by the promo spiel as “torturous” and “standard-setting,” Wild, Wild Misery promised to make me feel utterly wretched inside, so did it make good on this pledge or not?
To be completely honest, the answer is no. Now that’s not to say that Wild, Wild Misery is bad (although it isn’t particularly good either), however, I simply don’t find it depressing in the slightest. This may have to do with Shatraug’s approach to songwriting. Stylistically Mortualia’s music is something of a mash-up of black metal, doom, and drone, and it’s chock-full of guitar melodies that, while composed in the minor key, are actually quite pretty in their own right, sounding more wistful than miserable. This makes for a fairly distinctive sound, however, it doesn’t really achieve the fundamental thematic goal upon which the record is based.
While Shatraug is a dab hand at composing seductive melodies, however, there is a lot about Wild, Wild Misery that I really do not like. For starters, it’s mind-numbingly repetitive. Yes, the guitar work is measured and enticing, however, it’s also very similar and, when coupled with the plodding, mid-tempo pace that prevails throughout the album, it quickly becomes very difficult to distinguish one track from the next.
Production is mushy and imprecise, with an annoying background drone and a weird, almost muffled quality to each track. It sounds as though the record is being played through a speaker that has a wet towel draped over it, and on several occasions while listening to Wild, Wild Misery I was forced to briefly switch to another record, just to confirm to myself that my headphones weren’t beginning to die on me. The almost deadened characteristic of the sound is so pronounced that it simply has to be intentional, however, it seems somewhat counterintuitive as it lends the record a warmth that, stylistically speaking, it shouldn’t really have. Now I will grant that the balancing of the instruments is actually pretty good, and even the bass cuts through nicely, with “Emptiness of All” proving to be the standout track on this basis. If someone would just jettison the damp laundry effect, however, it would make the record sound a lot more cold and crisp — qualities which to me would seem like an automatic choice when making music of the bleak and gloomy persuasion.
While some decent enough music has been released under the Mortualia name in the past, Wild, Wild Misery is a flawed beast which, despite some alluring guitar work, simply doesn’t live up to its mission statement. If you’re ever in the mood for making yourself feel thoroughly miserable, you’d be better served by a dose of Shining or Woods of Ypres instead, and as for Shatraug, it’s his other projects which ultimately showcase his strongest work.