MorbusSo, Morbus Chron, a name which has been firmly embedding itself in the underground metal community’s consciousness over the last few years. As with so many bands that I’ve covered lately, they have until now just been a name for this sloppy metal follower. The opportunity to take on their second album then appeared as a more than intriguing proposition. Produced by Fred Estby (just how empty does the world feel without Dismember?!), ‘Sweven’ sees Morbus Chron exceeding their original death metal template further than they have before. In fact, the traces of conventional death metal evident on here are minute to say the least…

‘Berceuse’ starts off with an odd, surprisingly mellow strumming section – a bit like the theme to ‘The Pink Panther’ slowed down. And then gradually the drums build… into a continuation of this rather strange, dreamy sequence. Is it all just providing a sense of false security? As ‘Chains’ emerges the answer is, rather surprisingly, no (at least to begin with). More jazzy/progressive rock textures seep out until foreboding death metal akin to a ‘relaxed’ Gorguts bursts out. Equally interesting is the vocal approach which takes somewhat of a screamed/yelled black metal path – not unlike Obliteration’s latest release, only better executed. As the cerebral onslaught ensues, some finely textured riffs and subtle shifts in tempo confirm Morbus Chron’s ingenuity to be just as marked as their distinctness. Somehow there’s a sense of catchiness amidst all the cold obscurity. And sometimes it’s simply beautiful, as with the beginning and end of ‘Towards a Dark Sky’ which otherwise exhibits jarring drum work, manic riffs and pure abstraction.

The trademark of ‘Sweven’ is its creators’ skill with subtlety and invention. One moment searing fast riffs inflict burning wounds, the next, consummately constructed guitar interplay entrances the listener to a world beyond. In ‘Aurora in the Offing’, perhaps the only pure metal solo of the album emerges. Unsurprisingly it is perfection embodied, even if the duration is criminally short. Aside from musical ingenuity, the philosophical aspect to Morbus Chron’s world is key – from the transcendent artwork to brilliant song titles like ‘Ripening Life’. With much of the material, a strain of morbidity runs through yet there is an equal sense of triumph and celebration to be extracted. Likewise, when things take a turn for the discordant – as in one section of ‘It Stretches in the Hollow’ – it’s impossible to feel completely alienated. Just to add further praise and recommendation, we even get hints of Mercyful Fate/King Diamond in the music of ‘Beyond Life’s Sealed Abode’. What could there possibly be to complain about?

Well, as the end of the album rolls round in the forlorn beauty of ‘Terminus’, I would have to say very little. One of the aspects I appreciate most throughout the record is the sparsity of vocals, which both allows the music to fully breathe and lends the shrieks maximum impact when they do arrive. At fifty-three minutes, ‘Sweven’ is a hefty slab of metal – one which operates in the realms of classic metal, extremity and beyond. Thanks to this diversity and the unique moods explored in its apparent journey from life to unconsciousness, Morbus Chron’s latest statement captivates and rules.

(9/10 Jamie)