Saltas – Mors Salis: Opus I Review

Reviewing metal is often like pursuing higher education: the more I go along, I realize the less I know. A promo comes along and smacks me upside the head and I’m flabbergasted at how out of my league it is. My metal beginnings came from my college days, when I started pursuing more extreme forms than the breakdowns of Haste the Day and Bring Me the Horizon to shake off my parasitic roommate after his girlfriend dumped him twice. I delved into acts like Saturnus, Walknut, and Rwake, determined to find the most inaccessible stuff my impressionable brain could handle, and for him to shake his head and say “too much.” And in spite of listening to this stuff for the better part of my life now, I still realize how much I don’t know about so many sub-sub-subgenres, such as doom’s vast array. While I delved into the melodic death flavors of Saturnus, Swallow the Sun, and Novembers Doom, I let the cavernous stuff pass me by. It all comes full circle, when Swedish duo Saltas punishes me with a lethal dose of suffocatingly dense doom to whom comparisons are sparse.

Saltas sounds little like its members’ catalog in Irkallian Circle or The Funeral Orchestra. In fact, the first comparison I can initially make with 2020’s Mors Salis: Opus I is funeral doom’s Until Death Overtakes Me, in their droning one-beat-per-minute songwriting, but even then, it’s short-lived. Similar to the aforementioned and other density-focused groups like Grave Upheaval or Autokrator, Saltas sinks so deeply into the murk that Opus I feels almost like an ambient album. It dwells in the cold chasm where drone, doom, death, and black metal go to die and rot forgotten. Relying on swaths of drone, black vocals, and doom pace, Saltas creates an insanely exclusive sonic palette, an exercise in morbidity and emptiness that takes listeners to a miasmic abyss in a decidedly listener-unfriendly way.

Mors Salis:1 Opus I is extremely difficult to analyze track to track, as each is built on a foundation of wavelike dense riffs, and all other elements emerge like forms from the deep. Now, I don’t think I’m giving enough credit to just how fucking dense this shit is. Think Sunn O))) meeting Khanate in a dark alley for a knife fight while Call of the Wretched Sea-era Ahab and Swarth-era Portal cheer them on. Truly, Saltas is like being bitch-slapped by a whale with cement knuckles. Alongside this slow-motion beatdown, tracks “Tremors,” “Dimensional Seismic Waves,” and “Reversed Atom(b)” utilize blackened tremolo and blastbeats, while “This Is the Death” and “…The Liberation” showcase death metal in brutally deep growls and relatively momentous riffs (like two bpm). Commendably, when these influences emerge, they don’t overreach and compromise drone backbone2 consistency.

Not only is Mors Salis: Opus I dense as shit, it’s also weird as shit. Its body is a skeletal frame of drone waves, muscles and tendons of death and black influences, and skin and teeth of bizarre vocal tricks: zombie-like moans (“Metaspiritual Disintegration” and “This Is the Death”), dichotomous fierce Ulcerate-styled death metal roars and distant Shining-esque black metal howls, and chanting and clean vocals (“…The Liberation” and “This is the Death”). Throughout, strangely catchy, crystalline, and dissonant guitar melodies rise from the murk, feeling less like earworms and more like ear-centipedes: writhing, squirming, and menacing, yet icily hypnotic. There are times when these tricks can feel awkward, such as these plucking melodies matching falsetto croons in “This Is the Death” and the jarringly uptempo tremolos in “Dimensional Seismic Waves.” In terms of album structure, Saltas’ sound is inherently sprawling, making the “ambient” intro “Metaspiritual Disintegration” and interlude “The Rotting Resonance” questionable.

Saltas is bound to be divisive. Opus I’s brand of death/doom is not melodic like Swallow the Sun, nor is it the cavernous like Atavisma or Spectral Voice. While its miasmic and magmic influences are tantalizing, it’s extremely inaccessible—some will find this atmospheric experience truly immersive, while others will find it boring and directionless. With as drone-focused as this debut is, that’s perhaps unsurprising, but toss in some death and black, along with an ambient lurching writing style with very few glaring errors, and it’s taken to a whole new level. It’s surprisingly digestible at 42 minutes but contains some of the densest and most unlistenable shit this side of the Mississippi. While I enjoyed this new-to-me “death salt” experience, it will largely depend on how you feel about being disrespectfully backhanded by a whale.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear War Now! Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 15th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. “Death salt” in Latin.
  2. More like backdrone, amirite?
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