In Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, there’s a section called Skirmishes of an Untimely Man. In France’s metal scene, there’s a group called Mortuary whose career may as well have been called Expeditions of an Untimely Band. Unleashing their first full-length in 1996, already eight years old as a band, their deathy and thrashy style was long since out of vogue and death metal had moved on to graze in different pastures. They also managed to release a whopping four whole full-length records in the span of twenty-five years. In other words, they seem to have a penchant to strike when the iron is frigid the odd time they actually choose to strike. Now in year numero twenty-eight as a band, they’re decided to unleash Nothingless than Nothingness upon an unsuspecting public to see if the fifth strike is deadly.
Mortuary can be described as death-thrash, as this draws from the sort of death-thrash that came to be when particularly extreme thrash metal and early death metal were practically indistinguishable. Part of Mortuary’s sound owes a debt to Sepultura from Schizophrenia through Arise, Morbid Saint, fellow French death-thrashers Massacra, and Swedish squad Merciless’ 1990 debut The Awakening. Nothingless than Nothingness doesn’t slavishly recreate these sounds though, and allows death metal with melody that’s not crunchy candy-core or a cheesy Gothenburger to seep in. This means there are similarities to Monstrosity’s Spiritual Apocalypse, the best Malevolent Creation stuff, and Carcass in some riffs and in spirit. Vocally, Patrick Germonville has an agile yet harsh mid-ranged scream that reminds me a lot of Decapitated’s Rafal Piotrowski.
After the worthwhile introductory tune “Only Dead Witness” creates a tense and ominous mood with an abridged song instead of pointless noise, “Empty” launches Nothingless than Nothingness into action. It spends the first half on a catchy death-thrash tear, and then successfully drops that for a huge melodic detour that sounds inspired by Heartwork. After a satisfying crescendo where Germonville’s powerful screams match the guitars in rhythm, it launches back into the death-thrash from before without skipping a beat. “Tube” rules from start to finish, and I can’t be bothered to name a standout part because the whole thing is great. Like Sodom’s “Ausgebombt” before it, “Yesterdead” is a driving punk flavoured tune that breaks up the record nicely and adds a bit of catchy levity to the proceedings. “Morbid Existence” sounds old in the best way with a great chorus that reminded me of Asphyx’s wonderful “Serenade in Lead” along with a great bridge and solo.
I can’t find much wrong with Nothingless than Nothingness. If I were to nitpick, “K” has an extended soft section not unlike the one in “Poltergeist” from Rigor Mortis’ Slaves to the Grave that’s good, has an older Metallica vibe in spots, but is a little clumsy getting back into the maelstrom. It’s almost like someone returning to the discussion at hand by saying “so, yeah, anyways…” after an interesting but tenuously related riff on Abraham Lincoln’s biographical details. “Above” decides to downplay the death-thrash in favour of Monstrosity, Necroticism, and Malevolent Creation type riffing, which is a wee bit disappointing because Mortuary’s death-thrash is hugely entertaining stuff. It’s still a good song though, and casting this as a damaging flaw would be like complaining about getting some good ribs from the place where you normally get great burgers. I could nitpick further and say their English wordplay could use some work – “Yesterdead” and “Pleasuffering” are on the level of Exodus’s “Scar Spangled Banner” and “Shroud of Urine” puns – but the fact that I had to go this arbitrarily far to find things that mildly bothered me should be telling.
Mortuary is unfortunately very much with the times in squashing their master to DR6, but the music still sounds good overall. The drums seem like they lost a bit of their punch but still sound taut and punishing, and bass is nicely audible throughout. Guitar interplay is also easy to pick out, and the great work in “Tube” and “Pleasuffering” (the latter happily reminding me of “Dead Embryonic Cells” in the bridge) is a treat to hear. I won’t say this is a fresh take on a style we all know, but I will say that it’s a vital one. Packed with riffs and empty of masturbatory, critic-baiting pretension, Mortuary have made a damn fine record. There isn’t a highfalutin musical parallel to be drawn here, and Nothingless then Nothingness succeeds for the same reason those redefining beauty standards campaigns always fail: certain reactions cannot lie. Mortuary‘s latest gets the blood flowing (not in that way), the head banging, and the finger itching to hit play again once it ends. In short, this is something to remember for the end of December.