MortBlood of the Hermit is the second album from Mortualia, the solo project of one of Finnish black metal’s busiest exports, Shatraug (he of Behexen, Horna, Sargeist and umpteen other bands fame). Having been a follower of most of his other work, I was surprised that this project had passed me by, especially seeing as this album in particular was originally released in 2010 (with the projects debut originally having been released in 2007). Both this and the debut were ‘rediscovered’ and are now available to a wider audience courtesy of the Moribund Cult.

What I was expecting was fairly different from what greeted me upon first run through. Of course the project is still black metal, but this is likely the most morose, creeping and overwhelmingly low-fi as you will find Shatraug in any of his many guises. The entire album consists of 5 tracks over just short of an hour in duration which should give you an idea of the desolate soundscapes, hypnotic howling and sheer frothing bile which sizzles at every corner of this release. Whereas Finnish orthodox black metal is fairly recognisable for staying closer to the power of the riff to nail its spite home, Mortualia definitely relies more on cold atmospherics. Utilising a sound which is akin to a cavernous destructive wind-tunnel of never-ending hatred, it reminds me pleasantly of the monochromatic grimness of Xasthur’s early work, or Mane’s early demos. While the vocals don’t quite reach the manic depressive levels, they certainly err towards inhumanity at times, hissing amongst the scree of distortion and plodding, joylessly monotonous drums.

Each of the 10 minute plus tracks slowly erodes at you, with the likes of opener ‘Becoming Meaningless’ reeks of a haunting death, numerous restless souls murmuring nightmarish tales of utter degradation and misery. The title track ‘Blood of the Hermit’ has more of a brighter sound to it with use of warmer chord structures (perhaps closer to Deafheaven, though in terms of chord progression only), whilst still managing to sound as though it’s dredging the very depths of abject despair. The album closes with ‘Pain at Least..’, near 13 minutes of funereal drudgery, featuring some of Shatraug’s most fearsome eye-popping screams (seems he saved the best for last), ending out what is rather an energy sapping album – as is likely intended.

‘Blood of the Hermit’ will drain you mentally. It’s full of dark energy, to say you enjoy it is a bit like saying you enjoy a cross-country run – it can feel like it’s draining you at the time, but you know the buzz at the end of it is more than worth it. Powerful stuff.

(8/10 Lars Christiansen)