Mortuous - Through Wilderness - (8/10)
Published on July 3, 2018
Through Wilderness, the first full length by San Jose, California, Death metal band Mortuous begins with one of the most gorgeous acoustic guitar intros in recent memory. It is a slow, mournful, achingly beautiful dirge that lasts for all of about 1 minute. This intro and its twin outro are anomalous on this record. Outside of the bookending acoustics on this album, this is a no-holds-barred, straightforward, and mostly excellent debut by an exceedingly solid band.
The first element of this album that struck me was its production—which is just about perfect. The mix is massive and has a warm tone that is very pleasant on the ears. Through Wilderness runs through a gamut of different speeds and moods, and each are pulled off equally well. Right after that intro, the album kicks into warp-speed aggression on “Beyond Flesh.” With the second track, “Bitterness,” Mortuous shows off their knack for mid-paced, groovy songs. Though Mortuous is flexible enough to pull off any speed, my favorite parts throughout the album tend to be in the mid-paced range. “Chrysalis,” the album’s third track, slows to a doomy crawl to begin with and alternates between this speed and some mid-paced fare. Mortuous are able to transition smoothly between all of these different speeds, making transitions from slow to fast and back sound natural. Mortuous’s biggest strength is their ability to combine these different paces to create interesting and engaging songs that are at once complex and memorable.
I absolutely adore the guitar tone on this album, which is augmented by the warm production. Guitars are so huge they seem to extend past your speakers and headphones. During speedy parts, the guitarists usually go with some excellent tremolo riffing. Many of the trem riffs are pretty long and dance all over the place before repeating, which gives this album tons of replay value trying to memorize these lengthy escapades. These riffs are unstoppable, and the fast parts of the album are seriously energetic and heavy. During mid-paced parts there are some riffs reminiscent of Autopsy and Incantation, complete with pinch harmonics, and Mortuous does a pretty good Bolt-Thrower impression, too. A perfect example is the main riff that come in around 1:40 in “The Dead yet Dream”—a crushing, groove that will have you banging your head and destroying your immediate surroundings. Doomier portions are carried out convincingly with crushing chords sustained at length. On top of these riffs, Mortuous often overlays some eerie melodies or simple solos that add some color and flavor. The more complex guitar solos are excellent. They are a nice combination of melody and shreddiness that never goes full Slayer mode. There are also slower, more melodious solos that come across very tastefully.
The drumming across the album can best be described as “pummeling.” Chad Gailey is a forceful drummer who sounds like he plays with sledgehammers instead of drumsticks. But he is also a nimble sticksman when it comes to his cymbals. In addition to his machine gun fills, blasts, and double bass, he isn’t afraid to mix up nice little tinkly cymbal details. The production on the drums isn’t quite as good as on the guitars, and the drums tend to take a back seat in the soundstage. But they carry the album along well and I really can’t levy any criticisms toward the bongo-banging. The bass knows its place as a rhythmic grounding for the rest of the band and plays its role well, though it’s a bit inaudible at times.
All in all, sometimes being reliable is better than going out of the box. Mortuous seems to know this and wonderfully combines several elements of classic death metal bands to make a wholly enjoyable album, even if the wilderness it treks through has some well-trodden ground.