LA MUERTE – Sortilegia (Album Review)

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Straggling the border between rock and metal is always a dangerous game for a band, but gothic metal has long found success in the every increasingly narrow gap between the two, with bands such as Type O Negative, My Dying Bride and Katatonia having thousands upon thousands of gloomy eyed, makeup bedecked fans clamoring for tickets, merch and further releases (though to say Type O Negative won’t be coming back would be an understatement.) With this in mind, La Muerte seem to perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the scene as a whole, whilst also remaining distinctively based in their own interpretation of the sound, containing more than a smattering of pure doom metal elements and eardrum busting splash of Noise Rock to proceedings that creates a must listen release for 2022.

Instantly you’re met with an abyssal cacophony of noise, sharp yet rich guitars and harrowing vocals resound across the piece, evoking images of being trapped in a rather claustrophobic cave, left to stare at the rapidly approaching tide with no recourse but to accept your fate. It is no surprise that when track number 1, “Sortilegia” is named after the album that it resides upon, you receive such a clear statement of intent with the brooding, almost apocalyptical sound of the album being laid bare instantaneously within the hypnotic dirge that lays before you.

Keen to show they aren’t a one trick pony though, La Muerte burst into life with a groovier and rockier sound in “No Fear” that in spite of it’s different approach, remains teeth chattering menacing as it mercilessly pounds away at your skull with a pugilistic preponderance of pernicious power. This is accentuated in no small part by absolutely perfect production that manages to make things muddled enough to add a bit of a musical challenge to listening and yet allows the instruments to remain raw and idiosyncratic, particularly the deliciously stripped back percussion that sounds as if the kit were right next to you – something I adore in 90% of the time in the harsher side of my music taste.

It’s not often that an album instantly manages to be so captivating and convincing in its quality that within two tracks you’re already absolutely hooked. This is musical speed-ball, there’s so much nastiness, so much bite, so much sheer aggression in the music that it’s so much fun to listen to it should be illegal. There’s such a perfect sense of momentum to the songs that you just feel like you’re hurtling towards an ink black horizon at Mach 2. “Sortilegia” seems to be the perfect example of how you don’t have to be the heaviest band going to create a truly vicious and exhilarating listening experience.

Just in case your neck muscles weren’t left in some sort of hopeless spasm from all of the CTE inducing headbanging you were doing during the last two songs, the rather confrontationally named “Kiss My Fist” punches through the drywall of your psyche, polluting your mind and leaving you bleeding acid from your now demolished auditory tract. I really love this song, it has this grungy edge to it that harkens images of Nirvana at their “Bleach-era” hardest but turned up to 11, no, scratch that, it’s just invented a 12. It’s also worth noting that this is the first time on the album that I really noticed the punkier influences of the band coming into play, with noticeable post-hardcore side to the riff structures within “Kiss My Fist” that evokes a real ear-worm quality to specific sections of the song that makes it surprisingly catchy.

“Snake in my Hand” is not about what you might initially be thinking of, thankfully Dan over at the bands PR company sent me all the lyrics on the album over (Thanks Dan!) so to my delight, I can confirm the song isn’t a Type O Negative style reference to an act of self-enjoyment and is in fact about the much more palatable topic of murdering someone. All jokes and infantile giggling aside, the song continues the really strong quality of “Sortilegia” on without fault, with its jaunty opening being well developed into the meatier and brash course that cohesively conveys the violent pretensions of the track, with a remorseless and curt chorus section, bringing to the forefront a deep-seated hatred that burns like a crematorium on overdrive. “Snake in my Hand” pairs very naturally to “Kiss My Fist” both songs obviously sharing a thematic similarity, but also a similar progression and modus operandi, so not only are the two songs great in their own right, but they also form an extremely cohesive whole.

I can hardly believe this is the bands first release in 4 years, and on top of that, before they returned in 2015, they had actually been inactive for 19 years. Apparently, they had quite the cult following back in the 90s in their homeland of Belgium. It is perhaps a bit surprising then that “Sortilegia” doesn’t sound like some half-hearted release that rehashes old tropes into a package that trades on its nostalgia rather than its outright quality. In fact, the album is an extremely modern sounding affair, perfectly encapsulating the sort of sounds we’re beginning to see really kick off again in the 2020s, particularly noise rock (check out the new Chat Pile album if you like that stuff!) It’s not a pre-requisite to an album that it sounds like it’s on the cutting edge of modern sounds, but I would be foolish if I didn’t say that’s one of the best parts of what La Muerte have put forward in this release, it adds an avant-garde taste to what is otherwise a fairly simplistic sonic core, such a combination is a match you’d find hard to complain about.

“Sortilegia” Album Artwork

“Ave Satana!” is the message of “Sortilegia”‘s midpoint, with the pain drenched “Brother Satan” which certainly seems to posit an occult and ritualistic vibe which no doubt will be of interest to those who like their heavy music to give a firm nod to the secretive and reclusive left-hand path practices of various satanic and demonic organizations in existence, both well known and underground. I’m sure the band are likely using the theme just to find another way to convey they darkness that their music feeds upon, but you could believe from the sound of “Brother Satan” that they have at least some acquaintance with the devil.

In a completely different vein however is “Pontiac Firebird” which is a song about, well actually being a black Pontiac Firebird. This is an odd topic, but actually, I quite enjoy it. Now my French isn’t particularly good, but I have to say I find the lyrics quite fun, and the topic itself appeals to me as a massive petrolhead. I’ll take more harsh music about being an iconic American muscle car any day, even if it seems totally bizarre within the context of the album to have such a song thematically. As you might expect from a track about a classic American car, the sound of the song has small call-backs to the American hard rock scene of the 70s, perhaps being described as if Steppenwolf had drunk a bottle of vodka and then been attacked by an aggrieved swarm of bees. “Pontiac Firebird” is a really fun track, and I think it helps to keep the album focused on being something you can have a bit of a laugh with, whilst serious moments exist on “Sortilegia,” the overarching mischievous and cheeky personality of La Muerte shines through.

After having crossed the half way point of “Sortilegia,” it hasn’t lost any of its charm. It’s fun whilst still being meaningful, it’s harsh without being un-listenable, it excellently balances gothic, punk, rock and noise elements together into a hyper polished and heavily stylized medley. It’s so interesting to me how thematically we can go from murder to Satan to a love for cars and still have the overall album feel focused and honed in. I think the record isn’t really about one things as such in specific, but is instead about the exhilarating sensations of life, the most intense ones, such as our anger at the existential conditions of a life we didn’t choose, the burning passion of hatred that resides within us that threatens constantly to unchain our primal selves, the inbuilt drive to exert might and will against that which may oppose us – all of these sensations are described by the innovative sound and well-honed themes in here.

Perhaps the most distinctive entry on “Sortilegia” is “Monster.” Quite a bit softer than the other tracks on the album, “Monster” is a bit of a reprieve in a sea of intensity. It’s quite welcome really, and it means that when later songs go harder, it feels as fresh as it all the way back at the start of the album, after all, if everything goes hard, nothing goes hard. In spite of what “Monster” does for the rest of the album contextually, I would be lying if I said this was La Muerte at their best, the track is a bit bland to my ears, perhaps it chases palatability a little too strongly or perhaps I am just a caveman with the ability to write in Latin script, but ultimately, whilst the song is necessary for the quality of the album, it doesn’t quite merit listening to in isolation.

Happily, the slightly lacklustre “Monster” seems to have not engraved itself in the rest of the album, with the very next song “Blood on the Moon” being an extremely robust effort. Returning to the aggressive and veritably combustible explosivity of the main body of the album’s songwriting. “Blood on the Moon” indeed stands out as another deeply enjoyable track that trades on being able to get your pulse up and the adrenaline flowing.

La Muerte are a band that I think can expect their reach and following to grow quite a lot upon the public release of “Sortilegia. Not only is this a great thing for them (and they will have fully deserved it) but it’s a good thing for gothic metal in general. It’s safe to say the genre has been in a bit of a downward trend for many years now, with new releases becoming fewer and farther between. However, an album of this quality with such a strong relation to the genre is likely to spark a renewed interest in it, and I sincerely hope that they are able to hook up with other bands currently doing a similar thing and form a wider movement to great a sort of post-gothic metal wave, as this is a sound I could do well to hear much more of.

With rousing chants, drawn out sections of bleak guitar, rapacious percussion and distant vocals “Dust, You Will Return” excellently conveys a sense of decay, forlorn and encompassed by a grief made obsidian black by the phenomenally implemented production decisions. I’m not surprised the production is as good as it here, with avant-garde black metal sensation and one of my personal favorite artists Déhà being crucial to the production process. It’s a miracle he’s found the time amongst his prolific release schedule to actually not just produce the album, but to produce it so phenomenally well, and nowhere is this more abundantly clear than in “Dust, You Will Return.”

Most of the songs on “Sortilegia” have been fairly short up until now, but “Keep Your Secret” comes in at a relatively drawn out six-minutes-and-twenty-one seconds. At no point during this does it become un-engaging however, nor does it ever feel out of keeping with the rest of the album. In fact, as we head towards the end of the album, it is satisfying that “Keep Your Secret” is largely evocative of the first song of the album, the self-titled “Sortilegia” with a more distant and faded sound than the songs directly before it. This sonic callback is so integral to making an album feel every bit as joined together as it could be, and groups from Pink Floyd to Nine Inch Nails make fantastic usage of it to elevate the standard of their work – La Muerte are no exception.

In a similar vein then is the closer of the album, “Longue Misere.” Capitalising upon “Keep Your Secrets” sound, the song is a shifting, pulsating, molasses thick morass of noise and angst. Grander in scale than anything previous on “Sortilegia,” “Longue Misere” is an epically proportioned affair, with perhaps a greater degree of theatricality to that which exists elsewhere on the album. It is a slight shame then that perhaps the band have missed a trick by not including a greater degree of instrumental variety to really hammer home the extraverted and audacious sound of the track, some pained strings or a devilishly rich grand piano deployed well within this track would help it meet the aspersions that is core so obviously attempts to set out and make real. Nevertheless, “Longue Misere” is a worthy listen, and a solidly throughout closer to an album that deserves perhaps ever so slightly better, but is not harmed grievously by its inclusion irrespectively.

Released By: Consouling Sounds
Release Date: November 25th, 2022
Genre(s):  Gothic Metal / Noise Rock / Post-Hardcore

Musicians:

  • Christian Z / Drums
  • Dee J / Guitars
  • Marc Du Maurais / Vocals
  • King Kirby / Guitars
  • Le Tino / Bass

“Sortilegia” Track-listing:

  1. Sortilegia
  2. No Fear
  3. Kiss My Fist
  4. Snake in my Hand
  5. Brother Satan
  6. Pontiac Firebird
  7. Monster
  8. Blood on The Moon
  9. Dust, You Will Return
  10. Keep Your Secret
  11. Longue Misere

Order “La Muerte” here.

8.9 Excellent

A sterling effort gleaming with viscera and held together by wounded sinew, this snarling zinger of an album is every bit as captivating as it is well produced and original, with a breadth of quality across the majority of the album. A couple of songs miss, but when the hits hit as hard as they do, do you really care?

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 10
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