Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mortuary Drape - Tolling 13 Knell

Mortuary Drape - Tolling 13 Knell
2000, Avantgarde Records

This band has been around, in one incarnation or another, since 1986, and at this point they don't have anything to prove. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this band's sound and style or their obscure discography (only three albums in 14 years, on different labels, including the Greek Unisound records - that bastion of the bizarre in black metal), but nothing that has come before can, I believe, prepare you for the expertise they unleash here.

First off, Mortuary Drape employ two bass guitarists, and when listening to this record you have to adjust your hearing or faculties of interpretation slightly in order to understand what's going on. Not only does most of the melodic work in these songs occur in the lower registers, courtesy of the bass guitars, but the bass lines are placed in the listening space in the positions usually occupied by the regular guitars: one on the left, one on the right, with the guitar in the middle of the mix. The basses play through a bewildering array of ringing chord progressions, single note runs, and droning full chord soundings. The bass tones here color the overall effect - they add an entire new dimension to the band's range and melodic potential in that they open up untapped resources of sound. When listening to this album, I can't help but think of this as an 'occult' sound, meaning that the bass guitars, ringing together (or at times played in beautiful harmonies - you have to hear them to believe it), set up novel patterns of vibration that sound almost 'spectral': mystical, enchanting, mesmerizing...this fits in very well with the arching theme of this record: the tolling of bells, a dark celebration, a religious annunciation...

Moreover, every single song on this album is a separate and distinct entity unto itself. Moving from Mercyful Fate-like classic heavy metal to pounding, percussive 'traditional' black metal to speed metal to their own variations on all of the above, this band does not claim any allegiance to one style or genre and can seemingly move effortlessly between all of them. This is very refreshing to hear. The only criteria that I think this band pays attention to is the simple one of expediency: i.e., what works for them in the given context. Each song's theme calls for a different treatment or series of references and allusions, and so gets the requisite style it deserves. I believe that this ability of theirs to move between so many different styles and forms of metal while making it all somehow sound native to their own element must be a result of their wide experience. Not many bands have this deep a well of skill or can display this level of compositional technique. There are so many excellent melodies and riffing segments on this album that it openly invites repeated listenings to absorb it all. At the time of this review, I have spun this thing more than half a dozen times and I still can't manage to grasp the significance of every part of this. What I do know is that this is probably one of the most original releases I've heard in a long time.

I could probably go on and on writing about all of the things that this album makes me think of, all the questions it opens up in my mind...but what's the use? I urge you to listen to it for yourself...