Tuesday 25 July 2023

Mortal Blood - Fate's Overture (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Gothic Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Jun 2023
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Following on from yesterday, here's another EP containing five tracks, though it really isn't, given that it's over half an hour in length. Dan Krell, the musician behind everything here, as composer, performer and producer, may well think of it as an EP but I'm thinking of it as a full length album. Maybe he sees it as not substantially longer than its predecessor, last year's Unholy Feast, which was three minutes shorter. I think my criteria nowadays is whether it's longer than Reign in Blood or not, so that counts as an EP and this an album. Is there a better guide?

Krell infuses this with an interesting sound from moment one. It's advertised as gothic doom and I can't argue with that, but there's a band that sprang out of this immediately for me that doesn't feature on the influence list on Mortal Blood's EPK and that's Celtic Frost. It's most obvious in the vocals, which are delivered in a tortured style that reminds me of their Monotheist album, a dying god sort of voice that has to be distorted because it's more vast than our comprehension, speaking to us from beyond whatever veil separates men and gods, even dying ones.

The music behind it isn't as slow or as bleak, though it does fit both of those adjectives, even if the drums constantly suggest that everything else should speed up. It's more patient than aching and the bleakness is tempered by richer guitars. It's the guitars that add a gothic feel, but even when they try to soar, the vocals chain them back down again, even if they're just rumbling rather than delivering verses. I never caught lyrics here but I got the mood immediately and the voice keeps it mired in that mood.

Speaking to Krell's cited influences, I can hear a bunch of them here. There's some Candlemass in the majestic drive of Fury and Sorrow. There's some Paradise Lost in the more gothic guitar parts from Fate's Overture onwards, especially A Monster Approaches. There's some My Dying Bride in the sonic assault during the second half of Fury and Sorrow and the melancholic flow of A Monster Approaches. If there's any Gorgoroth here, it's in the vocals. I'm not hearing much Mercyful Fate, Dark Tranquillity or Amon Amarth. This is less theatrical and more soundscape, crew rather than cast.

It's as a soundscape generator that it's most successful, an approach that brings us right back to a Celtic Frost comparison, with the vocals leading the way. Krell's voice stays tortured throughout, fascinatingly so. It's primarily that vocal that makes this so ruthlessly uncommercial, in a way that we might associate otherwise with black metal, but almost every other instrument follows suit, an exception obvious only for the drums, which mostly pander to convention with double bass. All the influences Krell cites maintained a level of commerciality in their sound, even if it was just through melody. Mortal Blood has no interest doing that, just as the Frosties never did anything that they didn't want to do, even if it turned out to be a misstep.

Now, I'm a big Celtic Frost fan, going all the way back to their Hellhammer days, so I'm on board for this approach. However, I like the first three songs a lot more than the fourth, A Hell Dream, though it is growing on me. It's a little less focused than the others, which anchor the searching gothic guitarwork with the tortured vocals. It finds itself late, but it takes a while and it lost me a little as it got there, with guitars that know exactly what they're doing but drums that feel unsure. The final track, Empower the Warrior, finds itself immediately but it has a different feel, even using the same component parts. It plays to me like a black/doom metal take on a punk song, simple at its heart but weighed down by textures.

I like this but I appreciate the unconventional and uncompromising. Krell has a particular musical vision and he's focused on that so emphatically and singlemindedly that it's almost surprising that he acknowledged the real world by releasing this material. It's going to find people and many will hate it. However, the few who appreciate its sound will also appreciate its integrity. Even when it's at its most commercial, perhaps on A Monster Approaches, it refuses to play ball with anyone but Krell himself. It is what it is and that's all that should matter. I dig that.

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