This has certainly been a long time coming. Back in 2007 and at the height of the orthodox ‘for Him’ renaissance of truly Satanic black metal, this obscure Swedish duo released their debut ‘De Contemplanda Morte: De Reverencie Laboribus Ac Adorationis’ to much acclaim. The title is a mouthful, granted, but their murky, crepuscular and understated approach to atmospheric orthodox black metal went down a storm. With the hype in overdrive, the expectations were for Mortuus to strike whilst the orthodox iron was hot.
Clearly however, this is a band determined to do things their own way. A two-piece hailing from the icy northern town of Umea, they have certainly taken their time crafting the follow-up to the debut and seven years later, ‘Grape of the Vine’ has landed. Mortuus’s motto appears to be ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ and as soon as the record starts to spin, we are on familiar territory – M Hinze’s doleful drums pound a mournful, funereal paced beat whilst the cavernous vocals and chiming leads of main man Tehom carve canyons of despond. The first track proper is the album title track and its classic Mortuus in this sense, instantly transporting the listener to a world of dank, dark crypts and sinister sermons.
What made’ De Comtemplanda’ so intoxicating was the all-pervading sense of atmosphere that literally dripped from the recording married to some real song writing flair. ‘Grape of the Vine’ has the former in spades – it sounds like it was recorded in a tomb – and some real highlights dotted across the six full tracks. ‘Torches’ finishes with the kind of stirring melodic climax that Shining would kill to be able to write these days, the escalating lead guitar and chugging chords reaching a real crescendo. The best track on the album however is probably ‘Sulphur’, the lurching opening riff being a real hook (and curiously, a dead ringer for ‘To Mount and Rove’ from Borknagar’s ‘The Olden Domain’).
But… yes, there’s a but. Unfortunately, it must be said that ‘Grape of the Vine’ drags a bit. It’s primarily a pacing thing – every song here is rooted in a slow or mid-paced tempo and after thirty or so minutes, this starts to wear a little thin. Sure, the debut was primarily quite slow but crucially, would occasional up gears into more ferocious territory to lend a sense of ebb and flow to the material. This album does not do that at all and with that, lays bare some of the limitations of Mortuus’s approach – not helped by Tehom tending to stick to the same scales and keys for much of the guitar work throughout.
So, whilst some moments here are genuinely excellent, by the time ‘Tzel Maveth’ hoves into view, a real sense of repetition and – dare I say it – boredom begins to set in. ‘Grape of the Vine’ is certainly a worthy record and a decent follow-up to their debut but sadly doesn’t quite hit the soaring heights one would have hoped it would reach. Solid stuff, but that isn’t really enough for an act with Mortuus’s talents.
(7.5/10 Frank Allain)