Mithridatum – Harrowing Review

Here is a sheer cliff face of an album; if you’re hardy enough to attempt the climb, please sign this waiver absolving AMG Industries of responsibility for injury or death.1 Mithridatum debuts with Harrowing, five tracks of dissonant death metal that dare the listener to keep pace as the trio scrambles ever upward. If any album demands artwork from the late, great Lewandowski, it is Harrowing. You, the listener, are definitely the smallest and least significant thing in this sonic landscape–and it will continue to swirl around you quite independently of your ability to grok what’s happening.2 The band, which includes former members of The Faceless and Abhorrent. drops the White Glove of Challenge at your feet on first track “Sojourn.” Are the time and attention it takes to connect with Harrowing a sound investment, or are you merely falling prey to a musical Ponzi scheme?

Let’s get our skronk on! This platter exorcism-backbend-walks out of the gate with the aforementioned “Sojourn,” a track that makes it clear this is going to be a demanding negotiation. “Sojourn” sets a pattern followed by the rest of Harrowing. Dissonant passages haunted by Geoff Ficco’s death croaks commingle with ominous spoken word sections. It establishes an unsettling and, yes, harrowing atmosphere, dragging you there and back again on a journey that you shouldn’t expect to end in a sunlit shire. “Sojourn” is a perfect first track for Harrowing, in that it feels like you’re trying to keep up with a drill instructor who intends to run you ’til you puke just so you know what the fuck you signed up for.

You enlisted to serve in the Dissodeath Division. Fans of subgenre titans like Gorguts will understand the expectations that come with that, as will advocates of recent acts like Replicant and Crypts of Despair. Those outfits are distinguished by the skill of the participants, but also by their dynamism. You take a deep breath and submit yourself to the band’s overall sound, and just when it seems like there’s no coherent way forward a handhold emerges from the murk. The difficulty of the journey is a crucial part of the reward the listener feels upon completing it. Mithridatum provides plenty in the way of difficulty, but the band offers precious little respite along the way. The taste and talent behind Harrowing are indisputable, but the album feels content to break you down without a coherent vision for what might or should happen afterwards.

Consider these five songs on their own merits, and none of them are anything close to bad. “Sojourn” will demand your attention, as will “Silhouette,” as will “Mournful Glow,” etc. But it’s a punishing and often impenetrable listen, and we can all of us spend only so much time in Room 101 before abandoning hope entirely. Harrowing crushes your spirit right up until the sudden Sopranos-finale ending of closer “The Passageway.” If all you want is aural abuse, you’ve found a boundless source here. But Mithridatum has almost nothing else for you. “Silhouette” offers up moments of stirring black metal grandeur, and “Lower Power” is distinguished by its quieter and menacing vibe. But everything on Harrowing bends back to the norm of unresolved trem-picked noodle-riffs. Even the most challenging riddles, repeated time and again, numb the listener into boredom.

Mithridatum’s debut is, finally, a middling effort that holds the promise of better things to come. There’s abundant skill on display, but there’s not yet a vision for steering that prowess toward something distinctive. If you’re drawn to double-black-diamond ski slopes, Harrowing may be just the album for you. But if Mithridatum wants to attract something beyond the most rugged and dissonance-acclimated ears, they’ve got some thinking to do. The band displays enough intelligence on their debut to suggest that a little brainstorming won’t be a problem. I am reluctantly dismissing Harrowing, but I very much look forward to the challenge of whatever’s next from Mithridatum.3


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: facebook.com/Mithridatum | mithridatum.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: February 3rd, 2023

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Only kidding! Your waivers have long since been on file, and–spoiler alert–you all died years ago.
  2. That’s not intended as a slight against the striking artwork that actually accompanies the record, executed by The Blazing Seer.
  3. The band’s name, incidentally, refers to the process of gaining immunity to a poison by taking small doses. I guess sort of like vaccines? If you’d like to discuss vaccines further, kindly direct your thoughts to Steel Druhm care of the site’s outreach mechanism.
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