30 years between releases is a long time by anyone’s standards and if you missed Mortem when they released their debut demo tape ‘Slow Death’ in 1989 I am sure you can be forgiven and this tape is very much a collector’s item by now. The days when Hammy discovered a fresh faced Darkthrone and put them on the map on Peaceville moving into the realms of true Norwegian black metal from the label’s crusty punk origins have stood the test of time and stretched through the decades to today. Mortem are very much a product from this nascent era and were helmed by Steinar Johnsen and Marius Vold way back in 1987. Steiner is a current member of Arcturus and they are a starting point when looking at the band today, somewhat removed from the deathly origins from the aforementioned demo tape. The list of others bands this duo have moved through over the years in both studio and live is the stuff of legends, Thorns, Ved Buens Ende, Covenant, Emperor, Ulver and Stigma Diabolicum among them. In 1989 Hellhammer from Mayhem also joined the fold and is also back with them today along with new bass player Tor Stavenes of 1349 and Pantheon I. If the prospect of fresh material from that lot doesn’t have you salivating well you are obviously in the wrong place entirely. Why the gap and why now? Well I guess the huge array of groups the participants have been involved in explains that story and apparently the band had a couple of near resurrections in the past. Steiner puts it very simply and states he was spurred by the idea to simply “make something evil, fast, and heavy as hell.” Guess what, that’s exactly what we get with Ravensvart.
The atypically titled Norsk Svart title track starts with a dramatic booming heart-beat of a sound aa a quiet symphonic brooding backdrop gives way to a vicious snarl and everything drops in like the gates of hell themselves being ushered open. Vold’s vocals are raspy and suitably vicious but it is the sprawl of the keyboards and their signature sound that adds huge atmosphere as they swagger along empirically. There are definite nods here to Arcturus and Covenant in particularly as they sway in a mid-paced affair being urged ever faster by Hellhammer’s trademark drum pummelling. Although it is a sound from ‘Times Before The Light’ the authenticity is a full bodied one that sounds fantastic and the production is booming and solid as the drums beat a tattoo into Sjelestjeler. Lyrically you can probably guess themes and the 8 numbers are vocalised on the first cluster of tracks in Norwegian before English is also employed on others. There’s some fantastic signature runs and melody within the folds with everyone obviously enjoying themselves finally doing something that has no doubt been in the planning stages and gestating over a long period of time. ‘Blood Horizon’ at just under the 4-minute mark is viciously honed and full of razor-sharp riffs and a dramatic clamour riding roughshod through it. The drums pitter-patter with low ending thumps and the vocals rasp and summon devils with forked tongue. Apparently the band played a show fittingly in Transylvania to launch themselves as a live entity and are planning on playing more. I can totally imagine numbers like this going down a storm. Compared to this frenzy ‘Mørkets Monolitter’ is austere and macabre building atmosphere and malevolence with an underlying creepy carnival zest straight out of the weird and out there Norse scene that Arcturus helped build with their striking formative constellation of material. The monoliths of darkness are all over this and the choral parts perfectly add to the high sense of drama.
I also love the chilling neo-classical sense of loss that draws into ‘Truly Damned’ and the second half of the album. It’s suddenly whipped aside by a storm of darkness bristling away and everything goes haywire in a perfect hair-twirling sense of driving magnificence. Hang onto your hats we’re caught in a hurricane. There’s some thinking outside the box to be found such as the strange sudden guitar solo unravelling in midst of ‘Demon Shadow’ with some avant-garde pretensions and some explosive might and the shadow of war and ultimate apocalypse that detonates with dramatic effect the horror-fuelled diabolical finale ‘The Core.’ Melting down in style the album would possibly have been heralded a classic if it had been delivered at the height of the creative energy of many of the afore-mentioned bands work. With so much black metal around at the moment it’s difficult keeping up with it all but if you are looking for something truly authentic don’t let this one fall between the gaps. Mortem’s comeback is not before time and this is not only excellent but a thoroughly enjoyable one with it.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)