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MORTUALIA: "Mortualia" - 80%

skaven, October 23rd, 2012

Albeit mostly known for his main projects Horna and Sargeist, Shatraug has a ton of various side projects. Of all those, Mortualia is the one focusing on desolate atmosphere, torturing repetition, dragging tempo, the vision of a hopeless future: in other words, depressive black metal. The self-titled debut was originally released back in 2007 but it is now getting a re-release treatment by Moribund Cult, though I am basing my review on the original Northern Sky Productions version of which I’ve possessed a copy for a couple of years already.

Mortualia doesn’t fall to the most common problems of depressive black metal. Whereas many contenders turn out to sound just pitiful in their angst, this album does not dwell in self-pity at all. This is cold, distant, murky, and with a great dose malicious melodies and riffs without any clichéd over-melodic tunes. The first monster, ”The Blue Silence” clocking at seventeen minutes, is probably the most melancholic piece of the bunch, followed by another similar track ”In Bleak Loneliness”, after which ”Cold and Grey” kicks in with murky menace: gone are the wistful sounds of the first tracks. The minimal ”Devoid of Warmth” is a strong addition to the whole, but pales in comparison to the last piece, ”Forgotten Soul”, of which beginning riff is so damn dramatic that it truly chills.

To elaborate the album’s sound further, you can probably already guess that Mortualia isn’t professionally produced, and that is only good. Both drums and guitars are quite remote sounding but without any unnecessary amounts of reverb. Shatraug’s vocals are very, very high-pitched and semi-clean wailings which might turn off some and, to be honest, I wasn’t very keen on them at first, but they’ve grown on me over the years. I still prefer his sound on the next full-length Blood of the Hermit on which he gets raspier, though.

If you’re looking for a proper and authentic piece of depressive black metal, I would recommend Mortualia. Perhaps it is not a cornerstone album of the subgenre, but a worthy addition to anyone’s collection who claims to be a fan of the style, as the ringing coldness and joy-killing desolation is surely to make an impact. In case the vocals are too much to bear, then look into Blood of the Hermit, and even that glitch has been then fixed.

4 / 5
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Mortualia - 96%

Noctir, October 8th, 2012

There is a darkness that exists within each of us. Some are better equipped to cope with it than others; while certain people get through life hardly noticing its presence, there are those for whom it is an all-encompassing and ever-present threat. For the latter, life is little more than a series of nightmares. There is no such thing as normal; rather, one must suffer in Hell from birth 'til death and perhaps beyond. Released in January 2007, Mortualia's self-titled debut connects with this inescapable darkness and acts as the voice of those that dwell at the fathomless depths of torments unnumbered.

Many will likely have never heard of this project, yet still be quite familiar with the brilliant and tortured mind behind it. Mortualia is but one of the countless ways by which Shatraug, best known for his work with Horna and Sargeist, channels the dark force that dwells within his very being. This material is beyond dismal. The atmosphere is so bleak and hopeless than one can almost feel it pulling at your chest, draining the very life from you. The dreary guitar riffs slowly and methodically wrap around your neck, like a noose, and begin to hang your pathetic carcass in awaiting the glorious end when all horrible nightmares shall cease. The cold and sorrowful melodies act as the gun in your mouth... the razor making its way across your wrists and throat. Nearly every song clocks in between 14 and 20 minutes in length, with repetition serving a critical purpose in these grim proceedings. The goal, of course, is to make sure that every last drop of blood has escaped your veins, leaving no doubt as to whether or not the body is left as lifeless and empty as your existence in this realm always was. The compositions, sometimes, sound as if they were adapted from normal Horna material, yet slowed way down. Whatever the case may be, it is done to brilliant effect. Even Shatraug's vocals, which leave a lot to be desired, somehow work within the context of this album. The tortured screams are accentuated by otherworldly moans and other miserable sounds. Through the sound of his voice and the tone of the riffs, one gets the sense of a man with a war raging in his head; a constant struggle between life and death, with the former appearing to be on the losing end. It hardly seems possible, yet the darkness manages to become even darker as time passes. Just when you feel able to survive its cold and remorseless stranglehold, its grip tightens ever more. As this music slowly marches forth, much like a funeral procession, the darkness tears your flesh open and squeezes your heart as the blood flows freely. In such a state of despair, you may look around to see if someone might save you and that is when the realization hits that this Hell is a personal one and that you must suffer it utterly alone. This is hinted at, quite well, with the title of "In Bleak Loneliness". In fact, this one song may be the last that you hear of Mortualia, as it is so wretchedly sorrowful that few may live to experience the remainder of the album.

The sound of this record suits the material well, keeping in line with the sort of production achieved for the later Horna albums, placing most of the focus on the guitar riffs, though slow and winding they may be. The drums are audible, but so devoid of life that one would be hard-pressed to really notice after a few minutes. The vocals are buried just enough to allow for Shatraug's voice to blend in with the rest, though still high enough in the mix to have the desired effect. Everything here is done with precision, from the playing to the recording.

If you are a follower of this man's other works, such as Horna and Sargeist, then this will likely please you. However, it must be stated that such a monumentally miserable record is not for all. This goes far beyond the trendy DSBM nonsense that has been spewed forth by countless American bedroom projects, lacking atmosphere and sounding drenched in modern technology. This horribly depressing music has something that most of those 'bands' do not and that is a sense of authenticity and a genuine connection to the darkness that promises to consume us all.

Written for

We all pass quietly into the dust - 95%

autothrall, June 3rd, 2009

A true sense of dread and desolation can be difficult to evoke among the extreme metal crowd. We've heard it all, so how is it possible to continue bleeding the stone? The advent of 'suicidal' and depressing black metal has become a stagnant if interesting footnote to the genre at large, but unfortunately few of the bands are actually effective at what they do. Just about anyone sitting in their basement or bedroom with a computer, guitar and drum machine can play some slowish metal riffs and snarl and wail like an old lady being attacked by cats. So who can do it well?

Mortualia. The one-man side project of Shatraug (you'd know him from the great Horna if you weren't a poseur), Mortualia wisely abandons the dank dungeon of eternal cats for a bleak wintery landscape, delivered through five tracks in over 70 minutes. Yes...this is one of those albums to succeed despite its repeitious nature and length, simply because the journey is so immersive. But this isn't just some depressing journey, the album is actually beautiful. Shatraugs tormented cries escape his gasping lungs as the oxygen within freezes in place, while his panoramic vision of bright yet muted eternal tundra bears down on his writhing soul. Let go...let go of everything. Winter has already come, and we are all so fucking lost. So dead. Cut the vein. Cut it.

The individual tracks almost warrant no merit, because I would not advise the downtrodden aspirant to experience any less than the entirety of its playtime in one sitting. For example, the riffs of "Cold and Grey" may differ somewhat from "Devoid of Warmth", but I simply can't envision myself listening to just one. All or nothing here, the perfect soundtrack to a bathtub full of shaved ice and regret, the cold water filling it behind you as you glance sideways from razor to mirror, mirror to razor. Well, your problems amount to nothing in this grand, empty landscape. Winter was long before you. Winter will survive you.

Speaking of survival, I'm not sure if I could take another album from Mortualia. As much as I love this, does anything else need to be said? This is THE END. We all pass quietly into the dusk. How could it merit a sequel? With Shatraug's busy schedule (not only the amazing Horna, but Sargeist, and a myriad of lesser known projects like Hoath and Necroslut) we may ever know. But if you can repeat the same few basic riffs for 70 minutes straight and impress a jaded old man like myself, that's really saying something. An album not to be missed.