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Mortal Sin’s last worthwhile album - 72%

Hellish_Torture, September 23rd, 2015

After the intense “Kill ‘em All”-inspired debut “Mayhemic Destruction”, Mortal Sin managed to gain worldwide notoriety in the metal scene. Those were the years when thrash was spreading across the globe, and every band had some chance of getting signed; however, between the “Master of Puppets / Reign in Blood” dichotomy, the former proved to be the most commercially successful one. So, in 1989, the well-known “kangaroo thrashers” came back with their sophomore effort “Face of Despair”, abandoning their primordial form of speed/thrash in favor of a more fashionable “Bay Area-derived” sound.

This time, the Metallica influences switch unmistakably to the “Master / Justice” era, with the addition of complementary names such as Testament, Forbidden and late-80’s Exodus. The result is even more derivative than the debut (which at least, in its slight anachronism, was somehow unexpected), and tons of other underground bands at that time were attempting to replicate this exact sound (often with average/mediocre results) - yet, surprisingly enough, Mortal Sin were among those acts which managed to craft a decent collection of tunes, thanks to their superior skills in terms of songwriting and musicianship. Honestly, I was quite skeptical towards this record when I first saw its stereotypical artwork, already figuring out what kind of “development” the band had gone through since their earlier days - but, listening to the music, I was pleasantly proven wrong about their supposed “qualitative drop”.

As expected, the album’s primary formula is just pure, classic Bay Area sound, conveyed in the most basic manner: songs like “I Am Immortal” are made of mid-paced/upbeat drumming and simple, catchy palm-muted riffage in the vein of “The New Order” and “Practice What You Preach” - of course accompanied by the same, generic Metallica/Testament-worshipping vocal lines which are pretty much identical for every fucking Bay Area-styled act. For those of you looking for headbangable up-tempos in the vein of Slayer or early Exodus there is no big deal on here, since the occasional faster parts (while surely intense enough to make your head move) are usually among the most generic and unmemorable ones, as demonstrated by certain sections of “Innocent Torture” and “Terminal Reward” - with the only exceptions of “Suspended Animation”, “I Am Immortal” and “The Infantry Corps”, where the faster riffs are surprisingly brilliant and fitting, thanks to the infectious use of wicked melodies.

In fact, luckily enough, the band’s will isn’t limited to replicate a limited set of cliches: Mortal Sin takes a popular formula and tries to shape it as best as possible, adding their own dimension in terms of composition and technicality. Actually, in the riff-department, much emphasis is placed upon palm-muted phrasings which carry a lot of interesting, aggressive patterns (like those of “H”, “Suspended Animation” and “Martyrs of Eternity”); the band is also able to switch without problems from hyper-catchy and addictive groovy parts to hyper-technical/twisted riffage with odd tempos, as displayed on “The Infantry Corps” and “For Richer for Poorer”. And things don’t end here: this album shines particularly in the solo department, excelling definitely in the development of dark, unsetting atmospheres. “Voyage of the Disturbed” and “For Richer for Poorer” stand among the first examples of this formula, featuring everything from granitic/menacing mid-tempos to fine melodic enrichments (of course placed in the most “strategical” points), from sinister melodic progressions to sudden breaks which manage to add more tension, from catchy and threatening palm-muted riffs to excellent experimentations between melody and rhythmic strumming; these elements are able to salvage even some otherwise generic and anonymous tracks like the two aforementioned “Terminal Reward” or “Innocent Torture” (which benefit a lot from the insertion of awesome breaks and spectacular solos).

But the best stuff on here is yet to be mentioned. Among the album’s most complex episodes, “Martyrs of Eternity” begins with a gloomy, unsetting arpeggio which later evolves into a well-calibrated mishmash of sinister/oriental melodies, distinctive palm-muted riffage over powerful mid-tempos and, most of all, claustrophobic atmospheric parts (with the only flaws represented by the aforementioned generic riffs and some silly vocal lines). And then, “Suspended Animation” is an even more particular affair, wandering between the weirdest and most sinister melodies ever experimented by these Australians (almost verging on technical thrash standards), finely coupled with crispy riffs and other morbid atmospheric sections which manage to emphasize on the album’s “dissociated” spirit, probably derived from the band’s intention to narrate social hardship and abuse in the most realistic way possible - something they won’t be able to do on the following album, despite their desperate attempts to replicate the aesthetics of its more fortunate predecessor.

In its unexpected variety, “Face of Despair” provides an entertaining and captivating experience even for those who aren’t particularly well-disposed toward Bay Area copycats. Perhaps, the only true filler on here might be the brief joke track “Robbie Soles”, which offers just a bunch of lazy generic riffs, an acceptable solo and some cheap comedic lyrics (although the obsessive repetition of the ”R. Soles” chorus could make you smile a bit). This is pretty much the last entirely solid album ever made by Mortal Sin, a band which was destined to enjoy a discrete amount of glory before fading back into the underground with the horrid, painfully half-assed, self-parodic “Every Dog Has It’s Day” - and then, again, trying to re-obtain some dignity in recent years with two comeback albums which actually have little to offer in terms of creativity and consistency (although, I admit, “Psychology of Death” might deserve some consideration in certain regards), before disbanding again miserably. An eloquent case of premature exhaustion.

Guilty as charged! - 85%

Diamhea, November 25th, 2014

Although Mortal Sin never quite lived up to the hype encircling them during the manic heydey, the pattern of events that befell these Australian thrashers sealed in poser blood the indisputable proof that a great vocalist is oftentimes the deciding factor between second-line idiosyncrasy and something approaching greatness. A stellar thrash vocalist needs to espouse that air of barely controlled chaos alongside feverish instability. It is oftentimes annoying and hard to truly appreciate, but hey it just works. My point is, Mat Maurer is that fucking guy, ultimately proving that Mortal Sin was nothing but a hollow shell without him. After the dissolution of the first lineup, Eftichiou tried to restructure the band around the theatrics of one Steve Sly, and the band dropped the bomb that was Every Dog Has It's Day before rightfully calling it quits shortly thereafter. The band reforms with Maurer and delivers two solid modern records before collapsing again after his second departure, all but proving the aforementioned point.

So while the band garnered quite an agglomeration of attention following the raw but charming debut, they doubled back with even more vigor and focus on Face of Despair, during which Mortal Sin coherently takes bits and pieces from the American scenes and forms a patchwork of their own making; wholly unique while still proudly displaying their influences on their collective sleeve. The Metallica comparison is one often cited, and while obvious parallels can be drawn between Maurer's exaggerated drawl and Hetfield's soured rasp that was just coming into its own around this period, musically there is quite a detachment to navigate before calling Mortal Sin a second-rate clone. For one, Maurer's style is far more heterogeneous, alternating between percussive syllable-spewing tantrums and more drawn out, howling wordplay most evident on "I Am Immortal" and "H." The vocals demand attention and are oftentimes emphasized, but there is certainly more to appreciate here.

For one, Campbell is a fairly busy drummer, and his unequivocal love for a consistent outpouring of steady double bass is somewhat atypical for the style. If that wasn't enough, the bobbling and weaving concerning both tempo and tone keep Face of Despair cooking on all cylinders for nearly all of its duration. A great example would be "For Richer For Poorer," which comes off as almost spastic at first, what with its scattershot inclination, but the band tugs on the reins just in time to keep the flow natural and inherent. The droning chords on the chorus remind me of Overkill's "Coma," and the politically charged lyrics avoid coming off as trite or played out. Sincerity goes a long way on cuts like the aforementioned riff monster "I Am Immortal" and the clearly Slayer-influenced "Suspended Animation."

The overuse of gang shouts varies depending on the song, but some like "The Infantry Corps" could use a scant trimming of vocal fat. Discounting the silly joke track/closing number "Robbie Soles," the only song I can truly do without here is "Martyrs of Eternity," which reeks of the band phoning it in and honestly sounds like an incoherent mess for some reason. Chalking up the shortcomings (and there are a few) with powerhouses like "Innocent Torture" isn't even fair to the former. It is interesting to a point, because while Mortal Sin clearly claim a large swath of their influence to the Bay Area, their riffs aren't quite as hooky or overtly melodic compared to acts like Forbidden. These guys rely more on the concerted, punishing allure of the rhythm section, and with Maurer at the helm they can get away with a fair bit of experimentation if proceedings begin to dip south a bit.

I have made no qualms about my adoration for the material Mortal Sin put out after the reformation, but Face of Despair stands high and mighty above the rest of the band's discography, and is yet another notch in 1989's bullet belt; a heavy metal resume that goes a long way toward solidifying its position as one of the greatest years for thrash. If you are fond of early Exodus, Overkill's Under the Influence and the like, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you pass this one up.

The Bay Area comes to Australia. - 89%

hells_unicorn, November 13th, 2013

Mortal Sin was apparently a hyped act back in the day, though much of this was likely due to their stylistic similarity to early Metallica combined with a lack of what might be dubbed unnecessary stylistic evolution that had infected Hetfield and company. Much of their notoriety was tied to the raw and vital debut they kicked out in 1986 (arguably the greatest year for 80s thrash metal) that drew heavily from the "Kill Em' All" formula while tuning out much of the extras that Metallica began throwing in soon after. By way of contrast, "Face Of Despair" takes a more polished approach in terms of production, and largely comes off as a faster version of "Ride The Lightning" minus the balladry. While it might have been a bit presumptuous to call these guys the next Metallica, they definitely carried the label a bit better than some of their more technically oriented competition in the San Francisco Bay Area, some of whom were equally as blunt about where they got their ideas from.

To be sure, this is an ambitious album that's busting at the hips with an abundance of killer riff work and nasty thrashing goodness, but it's a bit more measured and calculated in its execution. Even when dealing with high speed neck destruction after the mold of Testament's "The Legacy" as heard in "Innocent Torture" and "Terminal Reward", there's a sense of build up and release that is more in line with a Exodus outlook on things rather than a Slayer or a Dark Angel approach. In fact, the one band that really comes to mind as being the most comparable to what is going on here stylistically is the early offerings out of Xentrix, a band from Britain that also took its cues from the Bay Area approach. Much of this album rests in a comfortable upper mid-tempo crunch, which actually works a bit better than the faster character of "Mayhemic Destruction" with Mat Maurer's slightly higher pitched version of Hetfield's gruff vocals.

To further describe the sense of nuance and development that is going on within these songs, while there isn't anything that wouldn't qualify as a ballad per say, there is a fair amount of variety going on here. "Martyr's Of Eternity" arguably gets the closest to ballad territory with a quiet, haunting intro reminiscent of every song off of "The New Order", but then opts to fall into a punishing mid-tempo groove that almost seems like it wants to emulate "The Thing That Should Not Be", but ends up avoiding any pretense of doom metal influence and gradually builds from a slower paced stomp with a lot of detailing to a full speed assault. Similarly, the exciting yet auspiciously mid-tempo starting song "I Am Immortal" smacks the listener with a solid bass intro before shifting into a back and forth play of mid-paced grooving and faster, double bass drum steeped fury. While the tone of the guitar is punchy and brilliant, the instrument that tends to shine the most in overall sound is the drums, which manage to sound thunderous and huge without going into the pretentiously click-like character that Lars was moving into on "...And Justice For All".

While in terms of overall quality it's a toss up between this album and its predecessor as Mortal Sin's crowning achievement, this album holds a slight edge for me given the stellar production job and more inventive songwriting. This is the album that Defiance was trying to put out during the early 90s but didn't succeed at for lack of a competent vocalist and a clear sense of how to fully develop a song. The media may prefer Metallica's notoriety and timing as the first band in this style to hit it big, but this tops anything that they did from 1986 onward, and gives a lot of the stronger Bay Area acts that followed a real run for their money. By 1989 thrash metal was a worldwide phenomenon, and Australia definitely did their share of the work both here and on the Hobbs' Angel Of Death debut.

I have no guilt, there is no law! - 78%

autothrall, April 13th, 2010

This was the sophomore effort from Australia's biggest thrash metal hopeful of the 80s, a band that once garnered quite a lot of buzz in the underground press of that time, so much that they were often named 'the next Metallica'. While such a comparison was probably not deserved, the band certain has similarities to the Bay Area style of speed/thrash, and Face of Despair was a pretty good album.

For one thing, the album has a very clear and professional mix to it; it still sounds worthy today. The vocals of Mat Maurer bear a little resemblance to Hetfield but he's got a slightly more nasal, higher pitched tone. The band were pretty good at the song writing, though there are a few gems on this disc that sparkle far brighter than the rest.

"I Am Immortal" is one such gem, a thrashterpiece of riffs. Who could forget the bass leading into that catchy guitar part? Catchy yet obvious chorus with gang shouts. Or how about the bridge in the song, between 1:44 and 3:00 which features numerous amazing riffs and then ends up in a glorious charging riff leading to the end of the song. This is probably the most memorable track, but there are some others of quality. "Innocent Torture" is a rager with a goofy sample and some nice leadwork. "The Infantry Corps" is a playful and silly thrash march. "Voyage of the Disturbed" is a good song with some catchy melody. As for the rest of the album, it's not quite memorable, but not necessarily bad either.

I will always prefer the raw and razorblade antics of Hobbs' Angel of Death as far as classic Australian thrash/speed metal, but Mortal Sin were decent enough. This is probably their best album but the rest aren't far behind. After a hiatus the band returned and they've put a new album out back in 2007 with some original members.


Thraaassshhh!! - 78%

UltraBoris, January 23rd, 2003

So if Testament or Sacred Reich or any of those 'wiffle ball' thrash bands decided to grow some balls, and get some really fucking catchy riffs, then this is what they may end up with. The album kinda fades by the end, but there are some excellent riffs scattered about.

Highlights are definitely the first two songs. "I Am Immortal" and "Voyage of the Disturbed" are classic thrash metal. Lots of fun catchy riffs, in that Laaz Rockit sense of the word. Also, "Innocent Torture" to begin side two is pretty good, as is the inexplicably titled "H". The only really weak track is "Robbie Soles", which is relies on one silly pun. "R. Soles in government". Okay, read that one fast and with an Aussie accent. Ha ha.

Anyway, it's a pretty fucking good album. Nothing really radical or mindbreaking, but they do have some balls, which poor Sacred Reich seem to have cut off in the name of fun. Certainly an album worth getting.