I was rooting for Terra. About two years ago when this English trio released their untitled debut, I thought the group had the potential to breathe fresh life into the so-called “Cascadian” black metal scene that had been losing steam for the past few years. Nevermind that they aren’t technically from the Pacific Northwest — the riffs were invigorating and hypnotic, the leads were transcendent and mesmerizing, the production was organic and spacious, and for most of its runtime that record could stand toe-to-toe with anything Wolves in the Throne Room or Fell Voices ever produced. In fact, the biggest criticism I had about the album was that the first two tracks were so good, it made the third and final one feel like a slog by comparison.
And that brings me to the good news about sophomore release Mors Secunda. From front to back, this record is a much more consistent listen than its predecessor. Unfortunately, it’s also weaker in just about every other way.
Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a bad album by any means. If you’re one of those folk who never listened to Ash Borer, Alda, and their countless ilk when they first started getting popular circa 2011, this might even sound fresh to you. But for the rest of us who’ve heard too many layered guitar atmospherics and woodsy chord progressions in our day, you’ll find there isn’t much new or inspired here.
Things begin typically enough with rumbling ambiance on first track “Apotheosis,” before we’re treated to charging blastbeats and washy Two Hunters-inspired guitars that’ll make you feel like it’s 2007 and Burzum fans everywhere are rushing to their keyboards all over again. The first real “riff” doesn’t appear until about seven minutes in, after which we’re treated to a string of skipping beats and wavering feedback, before a Woods of Desolation-style progression emerges that might actually make your ears perk up. About 15 minutes in another distinct riff emerges that sounds like a blood cousin of the first – equally mournful, different enough to feel fresh, but similar enough to tie the song together. When things fizzle to a close three minutes later, I’m left feeling like I’ve heard a decently arranged song, but one that in no way fulfills the potential hinted at in the debut.
And sadly, the only other track here — the 20-minute “Nadir” – really does nothing to help. While it begins promisingly enough with urgent, aggressive drumming that soon ascends into hammering blasting, the majority of “Nadir” is nothing more than a churning maelstrom of guitars from which nothing memorable emerges. It’s pleasing in the same way those ambient rainforest CDs are pleasing – if you close your eyes and really relax, you’ll almost believe you’re hearing something wonderful. But once your good sense kicks in, you realize how even the “highlights” here would be nothing more than the stock riffs on any other atmospheric black metal record.
If there is one positive on Secunda, it’s the performance of drummer Luke Braddick. Rather than delivering a constant stream of blasts, Braddick deftly moves between swirling buildups and lively jaunts, sounding wholly unrestrained in his performance and adding a much-needed shot of vitality to the otherwise nondescript proceedings. Likewise, the production – while lacking the richly analog sound of the debut – is the typical immense sound that works well for the style, featuring distinct snare hits and a lovely earthy guitar tone. As before, vocals are relegated to buried rasps which fade after holding a distant garble for a few seconds, with lyrics (if they exist at all) being totally indecipherable.
Mors Secunda is one of those tough albums to rate and review because it’s really not good or bad – it just sort of exists. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of bands that have sounded like this before and proven way more interesting, and the lack of those evocative leads that occasionally crept up on the debut only heightens my disappointment. Hardcore Fell Voices or Wolves in the Throne Room fans may find more to like here than I did, but for everyone else, this is just another nature-y black metal album that doesn’t do enough to leave its mark.