Back in the earliest days of heavy music, little or no attention was paid to exact genre classification. “Heavy metal” wasn’t really self-applied as a descriptor by bands until well into the 70s; the terms was used more or less interchangeably with “hard rock” and others to describe a wide variety of groups from Bad Company to Black Sabbath. In an era of intense internet debates over whether a group plays blackened death metal or deathened black metal, this application of blanket terminology seems quaint. And yet, five decades in, the rich, divergent history of metal subgenres is being amalgamated and hybridised, with previously impermeable lines of classification being blurred. More and more groups take influence from so many different areas of the metal map that precise classification seems pointless; it’s easier to throw up your hands and say “it’s just metal“.
Into this category I would place the New York trio Mortals, whose second full-length Cursed to See the Future boils down decades of metal history into a potent, distilled form. An easy, if somewhat lazy, description of the band might be as a kind of black metal version of High on Fire, where that group’s blend of sludgy, Celtic Frost-inspired riffs is augmented by the addition of blastbeats, tremolo picking and shrieked vocals. But that undersells the wide variety of terrain their latest release covers. The majority of these songs stretch out to eight or nine minutes, packing in innumerable riffs but pacing them with space to breathe as well. “Epochryphal Gloom” is a prime example, building slowly from deliberately-paced, portentous bass, the tempo and intensity climbing gradually until all hell breaks loose. Here and on other jams, the breakneck sprints are separated with lurching doom stomps and swinging half-time breaks, the pace constantly shifting but always remaining under masterful control. Drummer Caryn Havlik skilfully alternates between blastbeats and patterns which almost recall hardcore. Singer/bassist Lesley Wolf’s playing isn’t particularly prominent in the mix, but her hoarse, rasping vocals are delivered with 100% conviction, and fit their musical backdrop perfectly. Guitarist Elizabeth Cline steers clear of flashy soloing in order to instead punctuate the riffage with melodic leads- the outro of final track “Anchored in Time”, in particular, brings to mind a swaggering 80s metal riff filtered through the Mortals lens. It’s not exactly a triumphant, soaring finale, but it does offer a brief respite from the otherwise dark mood of the rest of the record, piercing the gloom with a ray of light.
You could argue, not inaccurately, that Mortals aren’t really doing anything new here. It takes skill and effort to blend so many influences into a coherent whole, and to perform the result with energy and passion, but it’s not exactly the same thing as creating something entirely original. This seems like nit-picking, though, when this innovation deficit is felt throughout the metal world, and when the band’s output is this much fun to listen to. Cursed to See the Future might not going to change your world, but it’s near-impossible to listen to without banging your head, throwing the horns and offering the invisible oranges to the gods.
Cursed to See the Future is released on the 8th of July through Relapse Records. Check out Mortals’ Bandcamp here, or listen to the album’s first track “View From a Tower” below.