Mass Worship – Portal Tombs Review

Not being an especially spiritual bloke, I only took a flyer on Mass Worship’s sophomore platter Portal Tombs because they were tagged “death metal” in our greasy promo sump. Well, the promo sump sits on a greasy throne of lies! These Swedish sadists are NOT death metal, and it’s actually a challenge to explain what they are. I can tell you Portal Tombs is a ridiculously heavy slab of extreme metal designed to smother and obliterate all light and joy from this cursed world. Their style rumbles through death, black, sludge, doom and grind genres like a nuclear-powered killdozer, and the band is more than happy to beat you with any and all tools they come across during their bloody rampage. Savage, punishing, and sometimes strikingly beautiful, Portal Tombs is a disorientingly turbulent ride through the dark side of metal, and a trip I was not properly strapped in for.

Little time is wasted before taking out the shellacking stick and shellacking you with fuck-ton heavy “Specular Void.” Scorched, chaotic riffs blending death and sludge motifs wrench and lurch amid piledriving bass and pounding drums as Claes Nordin unleashes ungodly roars and screams right out of the hardcore sludge school of anguish. It’s impactful as hell, tracing elements of Neurosis and Meshuggah in blood on the walls as it lumbers forward, aided by guest vocals from Barney Greenway of Napalm Death. Some of the riffs remind me of the underrated doom-death Winter crafted in the early 90s, and that’s a big compliment. The title track uses all the same ingredients to hurt you, and as effective as it all is, the crazed guitar solo on the back-end is what makes the song really stick like a rusty screwdriver in the ear. “Orcus Mouth” levels all in its path before digressing into gorgeously melodic guitarwork courtesy of Jonas Stålhammar of At the Gates as Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse adds sullen clean vocals. It’s good to have friends.

“Unholy Mass” begins life with sedate, soothing guitars, which are greatly appreciated after being roughed up by the first four tracks. This builds into a soaring, majestic solo full of emotion before you’re led back to the thug-ugly stomp, and it feels all that much heavier due to the gentle foreplay. My favorite moments arrive late, starting with the utter crushitude of “Scorched Earth” which sounds like Black Royal, Meshuggah and Neurosis knife fighting as they tumble into an industrial meat grinder. “Empyrean Halls” follows that bloody spectacle with something much more epic and doomy, building breathtaking vistas amid the gravitational smiting unleashed by the guitars and vocals. Things wind out impressively with the 7-plus minutes of “Deliverance” where the band takes a foot off the killerator to dabble in an extra-heavy variant of post-metal layered with exquisite, lush guitars. These melodic elements struggle against Triptykon-esque riffs that could flatten a garbage truck, and the tension is insane. I didn’t expect the brutality of the Mass Worship style to translate to long-form writing, but the band blends the beauty and the beast well enough to make the end product quite palatable. The album’s runtime is a short 38 minutes, with most songs in the 3-4 minutes range, which is smart because this is really strong stuff and any more would be too fucking much. The production is way loud, but it goes with what the band is trying to do here, which is murderize you.

The Worship services are led by the huge, abrasive grooves and schizophrenically twitchy riffs of Gustav Eriksson. Yes, he cribs notes from Neurosis, Eyehategod and Mastodon, but his riffcraft is very effective and there’s a unique texture to how he blends the raw leads with melodic solo-work. The man definitely wants to harm the listener with his playing and he does. The throat-shredding screams and rasps from Claes Nordin are mostly of the sludge and hardcore school of extremity, and while I would prefer death vocals, there’s no denying the conviction and raw power he brings to this brutal bake sale. Add some omnipresent, thick as fook bass from Dadde Stark and powerhouse, thunderous drumming by Fred Forsberg and you end up in way over your contused head.

A monolithic, bruising, and harrowing listen, Portal Tombs is not the fun kind of extreme. It’s a sinkhole of rage and anguish coated with sewage and you will feel suffocated by it. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience so much as was awestruck by it. But hey, what doesn’t kill us leaves us with huge medical bills, so check this out and bear the weight as long as you can. Ponderous, man. Fucking ponderous.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps
Label: Century Media
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2022

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