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Blood of the Hermit is the second album from Mortualia, the solo project of one of Finnish black metal’s busiest exports, Shatraug (he of Behexen, Horna, Sargeist and umpteen other bands fame). Having been a follower of most of his other work, I was surprised that this project had passed me by, especially seeing as this album in particular was originally released in 2010 (with the projects debut originally having been released in 2007). Both this and the debut were ‘rediscovered’ and are now available to a wider audience courtesy of the Moribund Cult.
What I was expecting was fairly different from what greeted me upon first run through. Of course the project is still black metal, but this is likely the most morose, creeping and overwhelmingly low-fi as you will find Shatraug in any of his many guises. The entire album consists of 5 tracks over just short of an hour in duration which should give you an idea of the desolate soundscapes, hypnotic howling and sheer frothing bile which sizzles at every corner of this release. Whereas Finnish orthodox black metal is fairly recognisable for staying closer to the power of the riff to nail its spite home, Mortualia definitely relies more on cold atmospherics. Utilising a sound which is akin to a cavernous destructive wind-tunnel of never-ending hatred, it reminds me pleasantly of the monochromatic grimness of Xasthur’s early work, or Mane’s early demos. While the vocals don’t quite reach the manic depressive levels, they certainly err towards inhumanity at times, hissing amongst the scree of distortion and plodding, joylessly monotonous drums.
Each of the 10 minute plus tracks slowly erodes at you, with the likes of opener ‘Becoming Meaningless’ reeks of a haunting death, numerous restless souls murmuring nightmarish tales of utter degradation and misery. The title track ‘Blood of the Hermit’ has more of a brighter sound to it with use of warmer chord structures (perhaps closer to Deafheaven, though in terms of chord progression only), whilst still managing to sound as though it’s dredging the very depths of abject despair. The album closes with ‘Pain at Least..’, near 13 minutes of funereal drudgery, featuring some of Shatraug’s most fearsome eye-popping screams (seems he saved the best for last), ending out what is rather an energy sapping album – as is likely intended.
‘Blood of the Hermit’ will drain you mentally. It’s full of dark energy, to say you enjoy it is a bit like saying you enjoy a cross-country run – it can feel like it’s draining you at the time, but you know the buzz at the end of it is more than worth it. Powerful stuff.
Originally written for www.avenoctum.com
Unearthed from the far reaches of obscurity, Mortualia is the solo project of the multi-talented Shatraug, best known for his work with Finnish black metal luminaries Horna, Sargeist, and Behexen. The 2010 release Blood Of The Hermit was Mortualia’s second release, and is being revitalized by the venerable Moribund Records.
In contrast to Shatraug’s other projects, Mortualia takes everything but an overbearing sense of melancholy down a notch. Paying tribute to the piercing beginnings of Burzum, Blood Of The Hermit consists of five tracks all spanning between 10 and 13 minutes. Combined with despondent lyrics, Mortualia is a firmly depressive black metal venture. Populated by innumerable terrible one man bands, this sub-sub-genre also hides several scattered golden nuggets in its muddy waters. Leave it to Shatraug to transmute an otherwise stale and predictable formula into something captivating.
“Becoming Meaningless”, like most of Blood Of The Hermit, is constructed around a recurring hypnotic riff, wistful in its sorrow. Calling to mind the work of Austere and Nyktalgia, the pervading themes of hopelessness and despair are competently integrated with a musical approach that is simple yet effective. The almost constant repetition of similar motifs create an oppressive and suffocating atmosphere, and Shatraug’s screams are anguished if somewhat overwrought. Balancing the razor’s edge between trite and gloomy always separates the dsbm wheat from the chaff, and Blood Of The Hermit is firmly at home amongst the wheat. The occasional hint of early Katatonia provides a welcome diversion, but like everything else it is kept to a bare-boned minimum.
Under-produced and at times downright sloppy in its execution, Mortualia never the less retains a personal spark that sets it apart from its ilk. The lengthy and monotonous compositions can be a tough sell, but should cut right to the bone of its target audience. It’s a shame that the best riff of the album, the main theme of “Pain At Least…”, is unashamedly lifted from Anathema’s “Fragile Dreams”. Coincidence or not, at least the repurposing of the melody is well suited for the black metal concept, pulling the listener further down into the pit of despair.
As a personal side-project, Mortualia is a successful departure from Shatraug’s other bands. This approach suits his raw style, and while not really breaking new territory, Blood Of The Hermit is a solid black metal album. If constant repetition, grueling crawling riffs, and tortured howling is your cup of tea, Mortualia serves a bitter yet rewarding blend.
Written for The Metal Observer
Three years ago, Shatraug of Horna and Sargeist fame produced the latest effort in an endless stream of side projects, a desolate and crushing s/t piece known as Mortualia, which violated my soul like a phallus of ice and blood. Cold and crushing, hopeless and heartless, five tracks in 70 minutes and all of them intent on freezing the listener into silence. He's kept the project active by contributing a to one split album each year, but the time has come to release a full-length follow-up. Though shorter than its predecessor (Shatraug has reined this album in at under an hour), it does bear the similarity of having five extended tracks, each a painful morsel of remorse and lamentation that will probably create a ringtone at some suicide hotline, somewhere in this world.
I was immediately taken with the cover art of Blood of the Hermit, and its simplistic grace which most bands would probably scoff at these days. A simple image of a fox drinking from a pond or lake set to the woodland backdrop. And yet the right half of the image is stark white...with the vertical logo separating them. The relevance of pointing this out is that it actually conveys the nature of the music itself quite well. Mortualia has not abandoned the bleak, deep winter of the s/t debut entirely, and yet one can't help but feel an infusion of Spring virtues...some implied 'thawing out' of all the cold and ice and dead strewn across the empty wastes of the man's mind. It's not only the cover...some of the guitar notes here seem like a warmth on the edge of eruption, and there's a vibrant underpinning that feels like a field about to bloom. Could it be a 'seasonal' concept album?
The band is still simply Shatraug, and the compositions are still over 10 minutes long, though they tend to top off around 12 minutes unlike the debut (which had a few in the 16-18 minute range). "Becoming Meaningless" boots off the album with a denseness of haunting, melodic chords that continue until the song shatters below the burden of the tormented rasping vocals, still much like a cat out in the rain, seeking shelter or scraps of rodent to fill its belly. The pace remains constant, though the texture of the riffing continuously makes a stride to the peripheral, and there is even a guitar solo here, though extremely simple. "Manic Euphoria" takes a leaning towards a more desperate pattern, with an evil archaic thrash riff that wrings doom upon the neck.
"The Sinister Shine" feels closer to the first track, but Shatraug dials up the vitriol of the vocals to such a level that they feel as if they might literally rend the walls of reality and usher in the abyss. Again, some nice fundamental lead melodies permeate the track to create a painful contrast to the withering, melodic atmosphere. "Blood of the Hermit" is the most summery of the compositions, with a nice emphasis on the ringing tone of the central guitar line, and brighter chords that crash beyond. An excellent idyll for a warm Spring afternoon, out far beyond the borders of civilization's imprint. "Pain at Least..." writes off the album with a steady, march-like tempo festooned in the extremely organic drum tone, like a procession of lost souls sent to wander about the daylight, suffering the pains of the sun forsaken them, before the cool wash of moonlight can finally subdue their restless spirits.
I'll admit that Blood of the Hermit was not so effective at destroying my will as its 2007 sibling, but part of this is in the choice of tones that spark both the wonder of the living as well as a rumination on the deceased. One element of note is that the slightly shorter track lengths breed a little less repetition than Mortualia had...for songs ranging above 10 minutes, these never seem to commit to a sense of endless hopelessness or ennui. So whatever the project has lost in emotional devastation it has gained in a heavily veiled waking of hope. The music is still brilliant, and the album cements Mortualia as my personal favorite of Shatraug's projects, eclipsed only by the occasional Horna masterstroke.
Highlights: come one, come all