As I’m typing this, I’m staring out the window at a dead tree across the street. It may be past the start of spring, but much like a stereotypical black metal cover, cold dominates the sky and spring seems to have missed the memo. It’s perfect for some depressing tunes, and Mist of Misery‘s fusion of symphonic black metal and depressive suicidal black metal fits the bill. Unalterable is the second full-length on Black Lion Records, its name is taken from the idea that life is, according to the band, “unalterable… how you’re bound to dwell in this miserable existence until life’s end.” I enjoyed this Swedish trio’s 2014 album Absence, as its surreal atmosphere seemed to transport me to another world, so I was excited to see what’s in the drip with the newest espresso depresso. So let’s bust out the depressive suicidal black metal guy and see if Unalterable alters our lives, yo1.
Album length has long been a polarizing topic discussed around the water cooler at AMG Headquarters, but it’s generally agreed that the longer the album, the more precarious it is. As such, Unalterable‘s hour and fifty-minute runtime is its most glaring quality. Ridiculous length can be fulfilling, like Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper, Rorcal‘s Heliogabalus, or Trist‘s Hin-Fort, thanks to the patience in the payoff and cognizance of pace. Mist of Misery‘s greatest strength lies in their potent balance between densely distorted guitar riffs and symphonic flourishes, but how well does it hold up over the mammoth runtime? With their sophomore effort, there are isolated moments of stunning despair to a moving effect, but as a whole, Unalterable is a grueling exercise in tedium.
MoM‘s sound is at its best in claustrophobic and impenetrable expanses, and tracks such as “Heir to Misfortune,” “Desolation,” and “The Dying Light” are all shining examples of symphonic soundscapes atop dense riffing. These provide complexity and an aching mood of despair and desperation, channeling Silencer and Vordven in equal measure. “Embracing Ruin” and “Within Dark Dreams” use repetition to a hypnotic effect, conjuring a surreal atmosphere similar to the psychedelic passages of Kataxu. Much of the second disc features good use of serene dynamic buildups, culminating in clearest album highlight and Dimmu Borgir cover “Stormblåst,” which kicks open the doors with thunderous drums and vibrant folk-tinged melodies, adding a jolt of energy to the plodding sound.
However, prudent to point out, it says something about your music if the best song is a cover. As such, the most damning quality about Unalterable is not its daunting length, but rather the band’s usage of it. Say what you will about Swallow the Sun‘s triple LP, Songs from the North I, II, & III, but their pace, patience, and uniformity made it feasible for its three-hour length; in that right, Mist of Misery‘s collection of tracks feels like just that: a collection. While instances show potential, they don’t mesh together and often feel rushed. The production values differ, such as the blaring piano overpowering the thin guitars in “Halls of Emptiness;” then guitars suddenly dominate the mix in the next track. The covers (“Stormblåst” and Coldworld‘s “Red Snow”) make no sense to Unalterable, because their sounds are either too monotonous or too different to add anything to the album’s already feeble theme (maybe just to add length). In comparison to Absence, any effect of escapism is quickly dismantled by bad arrangements, like an ill-placed interlude, a jarring cover track, or awkward mixing.
I hate giving Mist of Misery such a low score because the band is clearly talented and Absence is a shining gem of symphonic black metal. In contrast, Unalterable‘s protracted runtime and inconsistencies in quality and production make it tragically unbearable. There are some solid songs, interesting passages, and genuinely beautiful moments, but every highlight is drowning in an ocean of monotonous filler. As a whole, it feels contrived, like an awkward compilation album rather than a cohesive whole. Unless these guys intended Unalterable as some avant-garde depressive allegory for life’s ups, downs, and excessive length (in which I applaud them), we’re left with a sub-par black metal album with little value. Truly a “Mist” opportunity.