REVIEW: MORTEM – “Ravnsvart”
In the late ’80s, before the Norwegian black metal scene’s popularity was culminating to notoriety, Mortem was formed by Marius Vold & Steinar Sverd Johnsen (both of whom ended up being founding members of Arcturus) and it was one of the earliest of the scene. Hellhammer (Mayhem) joined forces soon after. Their raw 1989 demo ‘Slow Death’ was devastating, but while the band did not break up immediately, they never released a follow up to it. Until 2019. ‘Ravnsvart’ is Mortem’s first full-length album and a sinister comeback after 30 years!
‘Ravnsvart’ is less like the 1989 demo and more on the lines of early Arcturus. Tor R. Stavenes of 1349 joins this ‘supergroup’ on bass, while Hellhammer returns on drumming duty. ‘Ravnsvart’ conjures the blistering coldness of the diabolical sound of the 90’s symphonic black metal ala Arcturus and Emperor like it never left. The approach here though is less progressive and avant-garde, and more vigorous, fast-paced and bludgeoning. Expectedly, the production is clean but solid for the style involved here, and the right kind of keyboard and vocal mixing so as to not overburden everything else makes it a painless listen.
Mortem successfully reins the spirit that emanated from the era, of which some argue as one that is lost, of Scandinavian black metal magic. Any project that returns after decades into a world whose face has changed drastically from when and whence it was born will receive questions about the strength of its intentions, as we have seen several cases of nostalgia masturbation driving the return. Mortem, on the other hand, seems like its persistence to break out of a cryogenic shell has finally succeeded with ‘Ravnsvart’, and that is why it is still rooted in the black mass of evil that started it all.
The keyboards accentuate and direct the aggression and mystery into the demonic entity’s appetite. While keyboards play an essential part in building the atmospherics, they don’t form the primal structure as they did in Arcturus releases. The riffs here are the skeletons and the broad strokes. The album starts at an energetic and violent high as the first couple of tracks blitz through remorseless. “Blood Horizon” is borderline militaristic with the drumming and is the heaviest track of the album. “Truly Damned” is an example of how, as mentioned earlier, the keyboards heighten and mold the atmosphere to complement the pace of the drums and the riffs. “Demon Shadow” is a more Bathory-esque mid-paced track that slows down further into contemplative mind space climaxing into an empowering anthemic gallop.
Mortem’s return brings back the missing magic of the classic 90s symphonic black metal sound in a more straightforward package than the other projects the members of Mortem are involved with (Arcturus mainly). ‘Ravnsvart’ presents the cold and nefarious atmosphere of the feared era with uncurtailed ferocity. While I am unsure if this is a new beginning or a one-off release, it is good to see a form of reassembly of ideas and people for an ever-missed creation.