To blend active, engaging music with a sense of space and isolation is a task so seemingly oxymoronic that many bands never attempt to do so, indeed, even the few dissonant death metal bands out there are in a rather niche corner of their own, and certainly spotty in their quality and even less reliable in their output. Mithridatum then, with their black metal focused approach seem to be wishing to attempt the impossible in their determined quest to make their debut album “Harrowing” convey not just energy and viciousness, but also on-the-nose themes of isolation and introversion.
Perhaps the notion of dissonance within a musical context ought to be explained in more simplistic terms as the notion of a distant, cave-like sound that incorporates a blunted production technique that creates a flat and invariable sound, that is to say it simply sounds muffled. Of course, such an approach is a quite a divisive one, with many audiophiles deriding anything sounding muffled as a result of low-quality hardware or a poor musical ear. However, may naysayers be confronted with the opening track of “Harrowing” as a direct opposant of their philosophy, as it is abundantly clear from the off that “Sojourn” is not the by-product of some lackadaisical, laissez-faire, amateurish artists, but instead is an intentionally crafted and profoundly engaging entry onto Mithridatum’s debut album that is sure to immediately perk any listeners ears, and immediately garner a healthy modicum of respect for the as-yet unproven band. Perhaps in the most-critical of senses, it could be said that “Sojurn” is a little too jangly and discordant for an opener, being a tough nut to crack for all but the most seasoned of listeners, but the flip side of this is that it acts as a unmistakable statement of intent, one that shows the albums is not one of compromise or record-label manipulation, but that instead is the pure, concentrated vision of a set of musicians. Regardless, such a conflicting approach is commendable, but to this reviewers’ ears, is a little too strong in its vision, and ends up feeling a spot messy, if not overall important for the context of the album and largely enjoyable.
Thankfully, the somewhat bewildering nature of “Sojurn” in fact sets up and provides a frame of reference for the slightly calmer (If such a thing can be said of a song this abrasive!) “Silhouette.” In and amongst the discordant production, clashing riffs, punctuated drums and utterly unpredictable movement of the track, brief moments of sonic repose creep in much as water to a desert wanderer, with conventional black metal riffage being allowed to reign over the composition in brief stints, before collapsing back into a kaleidoscopic morass, in sound recreating the paintings of tortured absurdist artist Edvard Munch and in overall feel harkening the writings of the wise yet ultimately quietist Soren Kierkegaard. To have music evoke such things is a testament to it as an art form, as a thing extant not to appease or be consumed, but to provoke and disrupt, to conjure and to create – a thing to be extolled in all our waking moments, lest we persist in a greyscale dream, and allow clouds of functionality and boring compliance to rain glass shards of bitter melancholy onto us, and drown us in their conformist flood.
With a note of self-reflective irony, maybe I am thinking too deeply into the compositions, perhaps their seemingly random nature is in fact random, perhaps every note, every drumbeat, every howl and growl is a mere utterance, an impression of a vision, crafted from a vision that was spawned long before it – and yet why don’t I feel that it is so? Why do I feel like this is the concentrated power of a collective reckoning, one of a impassioned cry into a world that wants not to hear it, a harkened requiem for an internal consultation? A wish to be not just heard and disregarded but absorbed by the ineffable emotional osmosis that occurs in the process of engaged listening. At such an early stage within “Harrowing” I am already consumed by notions both imparted in me by the music itself, but also self-conceived in response to such a purposeful and distinctive stimulus – the tracks themselves. Indeed, I am caught, conflicted, bamboozled and dumbstruck in the perverse light of the album, left to rot in it’s vileness, forced to choke upon it’s festering aromas.
You may be mistaken for thinking the chaos is over upon the start of “Mournful Glow” but oh, how foolish you would be to do so, as made abundantly clear once the deconstructed fragments of guitar halt, and coagulate surreptitiously and with pernicious menace into a much more rapacious and raucous melee, with a fusillade of blast beats seemingly cascading across a noticeably disturbed guitar part, whilst choked back harshes resonate as a poetic plea to barbaric forces across the infernal caldera that lies in the song, which sits at the volcanic center-point of Mithridatum’s debut album. Never at any point does the pestilence recede into a distant fog, beyond that the composition itself is inherently foggy, and that a lack of clarity is the trade mark of “dissonant” metal, be it black or death. Indeed, the centre of the album also becomes its core, and from it, the last compositions stake their claim amongst an album of greats.
So then, it is perhaps no surprise that “Lower Power” doesn’t linger around too much, losing any impact or its ability to bewilder with staggering malleability,, instead, the vocals quieten to a whimper, the riffs instead take the spotlight, merging 2nd wave black metal sensibilities with a vaguely progressive edge that creates a compromise of both, in a way that is exclusively compelling and never feels cheap or baseless. The hustle and bustle of “Lower Power” is much the same as wondering the streets of a deserted city. During the lockdowns, I was in the city of Portsmouth, UK, often before the pandemic, it was a place where you could vanish and never be noticed, where you could walk 10 miles and feel as if not a single person had seen you, but when everywhere was shut, and you could leave the house once a day for fresh air, you felt an odd sense of connection to the rare strangers you passed, a sense of common struggle, a feeling of shared anguish – the instrumentals in “Lower Power” feel exactly like this, with each one being recognizable, and able to be analysed fleetingly, and yet the distance from them is clear, the fuzziness around their ages breeds an incomprehensibility not expressible in language, but only in the transcendental process of emotive and engaged listening. Holistically, the song is a borderline masterpiece of its style without qualification or mediation.
I think to briefly break from the somewhat sensationalist nature of my writing this far; it is a testament to the quality of the album that it has inspired me to write in such a verbose way. The album does still have its problems though. It has taken me 4 listens to truly understand it (or at least I think understand it) at first, I was largely repulsed and confused, scoffing at its seemingly arbitrary nature, but the more I listened, the more I felt I could feel a resonance within me in regards to it. If you choose to listen to “Harrowing” please make sure to give it multiple chances, and I know how often that’s said, I must’ve said a hundred times that I’d rather have my armpits stung by a thousand hornets than listen to five minutes of Rivers of Nihil only to be met with a “you just have to give it multiple listen!” In defiance of this though, is a genuine promise that if you give this album a few listens, with time to settle between them, that you will find something special within it.
And so, then we encroach upon the final entry on the Barrier-Reef deep “Harrowing.” “The Passageway” continues the existential decent of the previous tracks, becoming more withdrawn, more pensive and more abstract. With each shift and fold, you are dragged deeper into an ocean of incomprehensible scale, with a depth so punishingly obscure that as you are sucked deeper into it, the light that was visible all along eventually vanishes and you are left cradling tatters in the intransient noire. To end so hopelessly confounds the natural human need for immediate resolution, the sentiments wont fade, the ideations wont dissipate, this is a song, and furthermore an album that lingers, that sticks to you and wont fade, you are left coming back to it over the course of a day, analysing it in your moments of solitude, being pluralised by its confounding imprisonment every time you dare to allow your tired mind to drift back to it.
In some ways, I wouldn’t blame anyone for reading this review and disregarding it as an exercise in linguistic wankery, to think that in some way it is dishonest or afflicted, but I invite you to step into “Harrowing” and to invest time in the necessary re-listens, and then to still tell me that you do not at least understand where I am coming from in my assessment of it. All in all, to consider that not only is “Harrowing” one of the best examples of dissonant metal I have ever heard, but is also one of the best exercises in matching an ideal impact to a sound I have ever heard, and yet it is only a debut album of under 40 minutes in length, then it is no exaggeration to suggest that it will be an early AOTY contender, and something that will stick in my regular rotation.
Released By: Willowtip Records
Release Date: February 3rd, 2022
Genre(s): Dissonant Black Metal, Progressive Black Metal
- Lyle Cooper / Guitar, Bass, Drums
- Geoff Fico / Vocals
- Marlon Friday / Guitar
“Harrowing” track listing:
- Mournful Glow
- Lower Power
- The Passageway
Pre-order “Harrowing” here.
Obscene, challenging, and chaotic, “Harrowing” is a listening experience seldom found amongst any genre, yet alone in one as fleeting as the one it sits within, using its pugilistic cruelty and confounding technicality to bewilder you and disrupt your psyche, an album such as this is without much need to declare it, a definitive must-listen