My serious pursuits see me swimming in the olde. Philosophy’s greatest treasures are centuries and millennia old. One area of Ontarian contract law is essentially governed by a case concerning seafaring during the Napoleonic Wars. Romantically, well, I’ve gone grave robbing instead of cradle robbing, my affections being towards a lovely woman a few months my senior. It seems only fitting that French death-thrashers Mortal Scepter caught my eye. Their debut LP Where Light Suffocates sounds like something from the late 80s or early 90s, just the way I like this type of music. Again nostalgic for a time I didn’t live through and was an infant for, respectively, I find myself drawn once again to the olde.
With Slaughterer being the gold standard for contemporary death-thrash, every time I review a record like this I’ll inevitably compare it to their two masterpieces. Immediately apparent is that Mortal Scepter leans heavier on the thrash aspect than the death, sounding much like the last Deathhammer record and the oldest Sepultura. The production, which is charmingly flat, makes it sound sloppier than it is; these Frenchmen know how to play. It’s a nice touch though, hearkening back to the shoestring budgets for extreme bands of old. Once again, vicarious nostalgia gleaned from devouring old records and books on metal colors my experience with Where Light Suffocates.
Because having the best song title of a young 2019 is not enough, “Murder the Dawn” (How? Why?) has a perfect horn-throwing moment that could only have come about organically in the rehearsal room. A glorious chugging thrash riff (you know the type) barges in after a chaotic solo, and we’re treated to the lyrics of “DIE! DIE! DIE!” I don’t care how lowbrow that is, it rules. The concluding riff in “The Carpathian Castle” is pure non-progressive thrash goodness, sounding like something Suicidal Angels might have put on Sanctify the Darkness. An interesting outlier track is “Spear and Fang,” which briefly teases a riff that sounds like Swedish black metal before moving into a compelling guitar break seemingly inspired by Evil Dead and leads into a closing thrashing well. It’s a highlight because it’s unexpected but done remarkably well.
There are two issues prevalent on Where Light Suffocates that prevent it from being much more than a fine record for the avid death-thrash collector. The first is the presence of those flurries of notes that appear in riffs which work well for Deathhammer and early Megadeth, but aren’t executed nearly as well here. They sound a bit forced in “Swallow Your Tongue” and make “Lust Spells” sound a bit too haphazard for its own good. This relates back to the competence in a sense, as it’s obvious that Mortal Scepter are well within their abilities as musicians, so that charming aura of pushing not just musical but personal limits in early extreme metal is lacking. The second issue is Where Light Suffocates does little more than adequately play a genre I like. Where a band like Slaughterer writes the best death-thrash riffs since Morbid Saint, Mortal Scepter write fine riffs that are firmly within the lineage instead of attempting to dominate it like Slaughterer does.
In all, there’s nothing wrong with Where Light Suffocates. It’s got all the right stuff in all the right places, but it’s all just so… agreeable. If you like death-thrash, you’ll like this, because it’s death-thrash executed well. By the same token, if you like death metal you can listen to hundreds of third-tier bands and be content because they’re making sounds you enjoy. Mortal Scepter is better than third-tier, finding themselves firmly in the crowded second. Listening to Where Light Suffocates and listening to a great death-thrash record isn’t all that different on the surface; both would have a similar sound, do similar things, and sound exactly the same to someone unfamiliar with the genre. Upon a closer—and perhaps more honest—examination, the difference is stark. When I hear a great record, it worms itself into my memory. I associate time, place, mood, everything with that record. I can tell you where I bought it, I can share a story about it, I can talk about it as if it were a friend. Records like this? If it’s in my collection, it’s there because it’s good. It does something I like, and therefore I like it. It’s just not all that special. It’s replaceable, ephemeral, just fine. That’s okay, but little more.