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Nothing Is a Given, Alright - 95%

iamntbatman, June 11th, 2017

It took quite a few listens to really warm up to this album. While the first Mortualia record is very good, I got it at the same time I got the Korgonthurus debut, and while they're both in the same general musical territory, it was that Korgonthurus album that held me in its grips. But then came Blood of the Hermit, and essentially overnight Mortualia, unfairly overlooked by too many, became my very favorite of Shatraug's many, many musical projects. What I loved immediately about that album, and which keeps it in heavy rotation years later, is how the perfectly it captures the sound of the very nadir of depression, except honed and redirected with a distinct meanness, sort of a declaration of, "I hate myself, the world is utter shit, but both of these things are YOUR fault." A lot of people, very understandably, I think, gripe that the problem with the depressive sort of black metal is that it's "emo." Black metal is about an expression of power, the conquering of weakness, so metal that wallows in self-loathing is something deserving derision. I love Blood of the Hermit because, to me, it embraces that self-loathing only so that it may pick it up, wield it, and cut down that which made it.

Wild, Wild Misery is, emotionally and musically, a huge departure from the previous album. Gone are stabbing switchblade riffs, replaced entirely open, ringing chords on layered guitars, the rich, warm distortion allowing the nimble and, surprisingly, upbeat melodies to bleed everywhere throughout these more compact songs. I can't claim to be an expert on what Shatraug listens to or how his creative processes work, but I get powerful images of Cosmic Church in this third Mortualia album, though it almost sounds reverse engineered to pull the melodic sensibilities out of more recent Cosmic Church material but execute it with the more minimalist approach of the earlier releases. Just as before, only a couple of riffs are used through each song, but the emotional effect is different; rather than reinforcing a mood via repetition (a powerful tool in capable hands), the richer, fuller sound of the guitar chords here invites more attentive listening in order to discern the nuances in each new iteration.

It could be that I'm simply reading too much into it, but I think this is the very wild, wild misery the album title alludes to: while misery was domesticated and brandished on Blood of the Hermit, here it can't even be pinned down as it seems to be shifting relentlessly, masked subtly underneath melodies that are wrapped up in so damned much overt prettiness. But, taking a step back, one has to remember that this is Finnish, and while it's easy to imagine for a while that you're hunting for some elusive feral depression hidden below a bunch of saccharine cheer or something, it just ain't that at all. It's that inescapable Finnish tendency to forge inseperable alloys of strongwilled, victorious, prideful glory and the desperate emptiness that no triumph can ever erase, in the span of single melodic exercises. While other bands tend to express this Finnishness via tremolo patterns of consecutive notes, this time Shatraug has left it to crawl its way out from between surging primal chords.

An inevitable side effect of the shift to this type of expression is that, with fewer more overt and memorable riffs, it is somewhat harder to distinguish between particular tracks based on the guitars - each track feels more like a variation on the themes of the album, meant to be taken together as a whole. That will come as a relief to those who might guffaw at the shorter track lengths, as all too often that is the sign of a band moving more toward a "streamlined" songwriting approach with more emphasis placed on songs rather than on the holistic album experience. More variation comes in the dynamics introduced by the rhythm instruments, as more care has been put into these than on any previous Mortualia release. There are lots of stand-out moments in the bass work where lively melodic patterns truly complement the guitars rather than just bolstering their sonic impact with more low end. The drum performance has really taken a turn, though. Shatraug mostly keeps the drums simple, as before, favoring basic rock beats or double bass runs, but cymbal syncopation and really lively fills are a major source of contribution to the higher energy level of Wild, Wild Misery.

I can't say that, at this point, this album floors me on every single listen like Blood of the Hermit still does, but I do think I like it a little bit more on each subsequent listen, a sure sign of staying power. Those who loved the previous album: really give this one a chance to sink in. I think others might actually like this one a lot more. It's just such a rare thing for a band to shift to such a different approach within the boundaries of their own substyle, yet be just as compelling as always, but Mortualia has done just that. Who knows what's in store on the next outing.