Making good death-thrash is a fine art, like mixing a proper drink. As I’m no bartender, let’s use rye and ginger, the one mixed drink I occasionally have, as an example. Too much ginger-ale overpowers the rye, removing the “kick” of the drink and making it too sugary, like ginger-ale with an alcoholic aftertaste. Too little ginger-ale harms the flavor of both, giving the rye a strange aftertaste instead of making the two flavors mingle as they should. The right quantity of ice, if one wants ice, needs to be added too, so as to keep the drink cold but not dilute it when it inevitably melts as I sip — I can’t chug these drinks, as I’m not in high school anymore. Life’s simple pleasures can be surprisingly complex sometimes.
A rye and ginger made in subtly wrong ways is, after many listens, how I’ve come to view Mortuary’s latest record, The Autophagous Reign. I rated highly its predecessor, Nothingless than Nothingness — a rating I stand by. Both are the same in the sense that this or that rye and ginger are the same. But as we all know, not all rye and gingers are created equal, even if we use the same rye and ginger-ale. Mortuary hasn’t changed much — they still play the mix of old-school death thrash with a modern touch which animated this record’s predecessor. But it’s the mix of their elements — thrash and death — which ultimately leaves something to be desired.
The mixture suffers for a noticeable decrease in death. The first two songs of the record are illustrative, “Delete/Replace” sounding like a hyperactive punk song and “The Sapiens Order” sounding like a Soulfly outtake circa Dark Ages with more blasts. It’s not until “A Curse in Disguise” that the Mortuary of Nothingless than Nothingness rears its bloodthirsty head in proper form. The use of what’s basically a rejiggered Slayer riff fits well into the song, as it’s largely fast death metal tightly structured as it should be. A detour that works here is “Recycled,” which sounds like Mortuary trying to write a death-thrash ditty with a Motorhead injection. It’s got an infectious main riff, and a start-stop midsection that pleasantly reminds of death-thrash standard-bearers The Crown. Closing number “Monuments” is great, building up with an effective introduction, malevolently thrashing with a deathly Hell Awaits bent for a while, slowly giving way to more consonant melodic riffs and leads for an earned climax before returning to the song’s beginning and finishing on a monstrous chugging riff — I was pleasantly reminded of “Hardening of the Arteries” and its final moments here.
Pound for pound, The Autophagous Reign is faster than its predecessor. It also has a larger concentration of B-grade Exodus riffs which isn’t in itself a bad thing as they’re decent (see “Memorial in Vivo” for one example), but it absolutely pales in comparison to Nothingless than Nothingness. “Eternal” has one of the best chugging riffs on the record, but on Nothingless it would be firmly in the middle tier. “Disposable” does little more than ratchet up the Malevolent Creation influence in a far less effective way than “Above” did on Nothingless and with less riffing and compositional variety and purpose. I’m therefore left quite confused about The Autophagous Reign — it’s at once decent and a minor disappointment.
No fatal flaws, a true standout track, and professional performances across the board — and yet, I can’t bring myself to endorse The Autophagous Reign as I did Nothingless than Nothingness. To my ears, it’s indisputable that Mortuary changed, but perhaps I changed more. The task of reviewing records like The Autophagous Reign is cruel and thankless. Nothingless than Nothingness blew me away and introduced me to Mortuary. Here, there is a weight of expectations borne of a great first impression. In an ideal world, every new record of a band would follow an upward trajectory, each offering better songs than the last. Alas an ideal world this is not (in that sense, anyway), and so scenarios like this emerge more often than they don’t. I like The Autophagous Reign — it’s a fine record, made from good ingredients and performed by talented musicians, produced clearly so that each performance is audible for the listener to enjoy. Yet like a rye and ginger made less than perfectly, there’s something off about it that’s not distasteful or even objectionable, but off nonetheless. We all take our proportions differently, and Mortuary have departed from my taste in mixology here.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: XenoKorp Records
Websites: mortuarynancy.bandcamp.com | mortuary.free.fr | facebook.com/mortuarynancy
Releases Worldwide: November 8th, 2019