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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.