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It doesn't look like much, with the stark contrasts of the red logo and lame album title font against the gray castle tower backdrop, but Parody of the Mass left me with a decent impression at the time, a solid (if less attractive) advancement in production quality over Lost in Shadows Grey, which takes on a more decidedly 'spooky hue' with Charmock a.k.a. Jack D. Ripper's more involved vocal efforts and the better placement of keyboards that conjure up nostalgia for 80s horror soundtracks, sad patterns of repetition that seem quite flush with a serial killer stalking by the moonlight, or a spectral apparition. In fact, this is just a solid 'haunted castle' black metal record if there ever were one, not as amazing as the first Tartaros EP but it's one I know I can rely on from time to time, especially in the autumn season, because I have a fetish for a lot of this later 90s symphonic black metal.
Parody of the Mass is not so thematic or atmospheric as its successors The Horror Grandeur or Sketch of Supposed Murder, in which Jack was bringing forth industrial/electronic influences more to the fore, but this does at least show some traces of that. The black metal performed here doesn't often take on the tremolo picked, traditional face so much as it involves a lot of slower chugging patterns with the 'orchestration' carrying the melody, but he'll also lay out these big unexpected grooves and squeals ("Healing the Blind") and break down into these impish 'horror' sequences where the metal drops out, and the drums will press on with vocal modulated narration that is simultaneously cheesy and endearing, so bad its so good and so forth. But there are more tranquil moments of escapism, like the piano/string instrumental "Torn" or the sweeping finale "The End" where the keys feel a lot more like an actual symphony, and it actually inspires some raw emotion. Otherwise, from a production perspective this all sounds tight...the bass is audible, the drums beats are fulfilling if unimaginative, and Jack's nasty rasp was definitely first class among his Norse peers Ihsahn, Satyr and Nattefrost in the 90s.
If you loathe the heavily keyboard-infused black metal, this won't prove an exception, because this was never a band drifting in favor of the Darkthrone/old Burzum style, rather floating away. I've long thought of this band's progression as a sort of aural analog to how horror movies evolved in the 90s and 2000s, the genre oversaturated with a lot of bad CGI ghosts and kill scenes and this guy was also sort of embracing the technology towards his own compositional evolution. But I like Morgul a lot more than most of that shit, and this was the birth of the transformation. My few tangible issues with the songs here are that, 1) several of the riffing sequences are too repetitious for too long, and 2) the guitars here only rarely spike off into a harmony or interesting note progression, too often settling as a pure rhythmic countermeasure to the symphonics, which is kind of boring regardless of who the artist is. Beyond that, this is a good album, Mikael Hedlund (Hypocrisy) and Terje Refsnes did a good job assembling it and if you're actually into bands like Crest of Darkness, Gloomy Grim, old Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir then it's worth an 'approach', even if you don't end up buying it a drink or taking it home for an evening of passionate faux-Goth lovemaking.
Morgul is a band that has remained relatively unsung despite being in existence for over 15 years. Their unique blend of genres including black and industrial metal has, however, garnered some positive attention for them over the years, culminating in the 2005 release “All Dead Here”. This album is very different to later releases on the other hand, being very raw and experimental at once.
The atmosphere is set right from the start with eerie percussion leading into a powerful build-up of synths and guitars on the opening track “Black Hearts Domain”. This song consists of very chunky guitars and drums fronted by darkly atmospheric symphonics and lead. It is also quickly apparent that the vocals are much more traditional black metal as opposed to more generic Shagrath-like screams on later Morgul albums. The biggest difference here, however, is the experimental approach to songwriting. Very often the dark and aggressive songs break dramatically into more melodic and even epic sections. It seems Morgul was not quite as focused on its “horror metal” image here, with many songs, such as the second track “Healing the Blind”, being purely black metal albeit with interesting progressions and structures.
The aforementioned second track is simply excellent, entering furiously with black metal riffery and blastbeats abound. The verse is a surprise change from the intro, leaning towards the so-called Gothenburg sound of the time, a very pleasing rhythm and melody. The song changes again later into pure aggression and black ferocity, showing itself to be one of the best songs on the album. This diversity and unexpected change happens throughout the album, ensuring it never fades into background noise for the entire duration.
It is clear that this is an album from a young band, eager to pour many ideas into the seven songs. At times, this becomes a bit much, particularly in the ambitious track “Ballad of Revolt”, which, despite having excellent riffs and melodies, becomes terribly monotonous after about halfway. This is unfortunate as the song is actually very enjoyable, particularly the growling vocals, up until the repetition kills it. The instrumental “Torn” also feels disappointingly like a filler, merely showboating the talents of the guitarist and keyboard player, which, wouldn’t you know it, is the same person. These unnecessary blunders do detract from the overall experience of “Parody of the Mass”, but I won’t hold it terminally against Morgul, for this is a very strong effort.
The feral nature of this album is something that feels lacking in later Morgul albums, where skill and production take preference over sincere songwriting at times. Here, the songs were still filled with emotion, and while being unmistakably Morgul it is still very different to “All Dead Here” or “The Horror Grandeur”. Morgul did go on to be a great band with a very distinctive sound, but a lot of that talent was already present here and I find “Parody of the Mass” to be a very entertaining album. The atmosphere is incredibly cold, the production is excellent, and the songwriting is very unique, particularly considering it was only 1998. I recommend this album to any Morgul fan, and any fan of all things dark and black metal looking for something very different.